KLAS Therapeutics: an innovative new treatment option for metastatic melanoma skin cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide representing the cause of death of millions of people every year.  Although non-melanoma skin cancer is more common, melanoma cancer is more deadly: over 15,000 people died from melanoma in 2022 in Europe, with over 100,000 new cases reported, the majority of which were in adults between the ages of 45 and 69. European countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway are among the countries with the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. 

To solve this dramatic situation, the UK-based startup KLAS Therapeutics has developed a game-changing treatment.

KLAS Therapeutics logo

KLAS therapeutics’ mission is to revolutionise the treatment of melanoma skin cancer using their patented KLAS technology.

How does KLAS technology work?

KLAS Therapeutics has developed a novel compound that enables photodynamic therapy (PDT)  to be used for the first time in the fight against malignant melanoma, expanding the therapeutic class of compounds capable of targeting and killing the melanoma cells. 

Pre-clinical studies have shown 500% tumour size reduction compared to PDT alone and in vitro eradication of nearly 100% of melanoma cells. Furthermore, KLAS technology has the potential be used as a synergistic approach with current immunotherapies meaning lower toxicity with increased tolerance and efficacy.

Beginnings, projects and challenges of the company

Mr Justin Murphy, Prof. Bridgeen Callan, Prof. John Callan and Dr Rubeta Matin founded KLAS therapeutics in February 2021, with the main aim to commercialize research that originated from Ulster University.

“We have been working on the technology for almost a decade, and in order to bring it to the next stage (that is, to bring it to the clinic) we spun out of the university to commercialize it”- explained Prof Bridgeen Callan during the interview.

PDT is FDA-approved for non-melanoma skin cancer but it currently does not work for melanoma. However, the KLAS team has developed a very promising technology that is effective against melanoma skin cancer using photodynamic therapy:

“Despite representing less than 5% skin cancer, melanoma is responsible for 75% of skin cancer-related deaths, so the fact that PDT doesn’t currently work for it means that, with our technology, we can unlock the potential of PDT and revolutionize the treatment for melanoma”- stated Prof Bridgeen Callan. 

However, as Prof Bridgeen Callan explains, it has been a difficult and complex journey. Although her role within the company is as CSO (Chief Scientific Officer), she had to acquire a different mindset too:

“One of the main challenges is that as an academic I’m very evidence and scientifically driven, so to change my perspective ‘more into business’ has not been easy. When I met investors, I was trying to tell them about the technology, but actually they wanted to know about the market and what the highest risks are, so changing that mindset has been quite challenging for me. Our technology is so impressive and our pre-clinical data so strong that I felt morally obliged to try and bring this technology to market, but I found it quite challenging to switch roles”- confessed Prof Bridgeen Callan.

Industry and future perspectives

Although the current melanoma market is dominated by immunotherapies, 50% of the patients are either non-responsive to their treatments or develop adverse effects. Therefore, they have no available treatment options, and there is a high medical need: 

“The melanoma market is worth billions, but those patients, and that’s about 22% of the melanoma patient cohort, they will have no current treatments available, so there’s a high unmet  medical need, and we feel our technology can bridge that gap”- stated Prof Bridgeen Callan.

Currently, KLAS is seeking investment to carry out the first in-human clinical trial, which will take approximately two years. Following on from that, they will be expanding their portfolio to include technologies that can be used in combination with KLAS therapy as well as taking KLAS-PDT to a much larger clinical trial. 

“Our pre-clinical data is impressive, but we need to take it to the next stage. Once we have the clinical data, then we’ll be a more attractive prospect for large pharmaceutical companies because we will have de-risked the technology substantially”- explained Prof Bridgeen Callan.

KLAS collaboration with Strata

KLAS had been approaching Venture Capital companies to get an investment, and one of these VCs put them in touch with Strata. 

“As an academic, with nearly 20 years’ experience,  I have written  lots of grant applications, some successful, some not successful, so I would consider myself an experienced grant-writer, but it wasn’t until that VC company advised me to hire Strata that I started thinking this might be worthwhile, and it turned out to be a very good idea indeed”- explained Prof Bridgeen Callan.

According to her experience, all the application processes are quite difficult to navigate through, but she found it quite painless thanks to Strata:

“I would like to highlight how much I enjoyed working with Strata, it really made the process pain-free and their approachability is very high. Always responding to my emails, even on weekends and evenings, especially when deadlines approached. I really appreciated that and I would encourage anybody applying for the grant to do so using Strata”-concluded Prof Bridgeen Callan.

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