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October 19, 2022

Venture Kick support for Biozentrum spin-off Aukera Therapeutics

The start-up Aukera Therapeutics, founded at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in 2021, has received funding of 150,000 Swiss francs from the Venture Kick initiative. The company develops selective drugs for the treatment of diseases related to the growth regulator mTORC1 such as cancer or neurodegenerative diseases.

The two founders of the biotech start-up Aukera Therapeutics: Dr. Dritan Liko and Dr. Stefan Imseng.

It was only at the beginning of the year that the Biozentrum spin-off Aukera Therapeutics qualified for the BaseLaunch Accelerator program. Now the two young entrepreneurs Dr. Stefan Imseng and Dr. Dritan Liko can add another success: Their biotech venture is being supported by the Venture Kick funding initiative with the amount of 150,000 Swiss Francs.

The start-up will use this financial contribution to develop and patent new pharmaceutical compounds that interfere with dysregulated mTOR signaling pathways. mTOR acts in the cell by forming two protein complexes: mTORC1 and mTORC2. A permanently activated mTORC1 is implicated in a wide variety of diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative and rare diseases.

Selective and safe drugs against mTORC1

For quite some time there have been a number of drugs on the market that inhibit mTORC1 and thus cancer growth. One of the best known is the inhibitor Everolimus, which is used to treat various tumors. However, many of these inhibitors interfere with both mTOR complexes thus present non-specific effects. As a result, many patients suffer from adverse side effects.

“With novel classes of drugs, we want to circumvent these problems and improve efficacy and tolerability,” explains Stefan Imseng, CEO of Aukera Therapeutics. “Our drugs selectively target the protein complex mTORC1, which centrally controls cell growth. Increased activity of mTORC1 leads to many diseases, therefore numerous patients could benefit from our selective approach.”

Spin-off from the Biozentrum

The two start-up founders have many years of broad expertise in the field of mTOR research obtained as part of research groups of the mTOR experts Prof. Michael N. Hall and Prof. Timm Maier at the Biozentrum. With the founding of Aukera Therapeutics, the young entrepreneurs want to bring the research findings into the clinic for the benefit of patients. 

“Venture Kick’s financial support will enable us to further develop our most promising drug candidates, patent them and move forward with the preclinical studies," says Imseng. "The funding gives our start-up an additional boost and the coaching will allow us to refine our strategy." Aukera Therapeutics is part of the ecosystem supported by the initiatives of the Innovation Office of the University of Basel. Since the beginning of 2022, the start-up has been in the portfolio of the BaseLaunch program of Basel Area Business & Innovation, the innovation and investment promotion agency for the Basel region.

Venture Kick initiative

Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision of doubling the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities, to accelerate their speed-to-market and to raise the attractiveness of these young companies among professional investors and industry partners. Since its launch, Venture Kick has supported more than 900 Swiss start-up projects with around 44 million Swiss francs. This year Venture Kick is supporting 173 start-up projects with a total of CHF 6.1 million.

Contact: Communications, Katrin Bühler