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ONK Therapeutics Appoints Hugh O’Dowd as Independent Chairman

  • US-based Hugh O’Dowd joins the Board as independent Non-executive Chairman
  • Brings significant experience in commercialization of oncology drugs
  • Led Neon Therapeutics, Inc. for four years through to its acquisition by BioNTech SE
  • Twenty years of big pharma experience gained at Novartis, including as CCO of Novartis Oncology

GALWAY, Ireland & SAN DIEGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--#cancer--ONK Therapeutics Ltd, an innovative natural killer (NK) cell therapy company, today announced that it has appointed Hugh O’Dowd as Director and independent Non-executive Chairman of its Board of Directors.

US-based Mr. O’Dowd brings significant experience and a background in the life sciences industry to the ONK Therapeutics’ Board in particular building organizations and commercialization of oncology therapeutics. His experience and strategic insights will be invaluable to ONK as it executes on its growth ambitions, progressing its novel, off-the-shelf, dual-targeted, natural killer (NK) cell therapy platform towards human clinical trials.

Mr. O’Dowd currently serves as Non-executive Director on the Board of oncology development and commercialization company Puma Biotechnology, Inc (NASDAQ: PBYI). Until its acquisition by BioNTech SE in May 2020, Mr. O’Dowd served for four years as President, Chief Executive Officer, and a member of the Board of Directors of Neon Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: NTGN), a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company that developed neoantigen-based therapeutics.

Prior to Neon Therapeutics, Mr. O’Dowd spent more than 20 years in a variety of senior leadership roles at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. While at Novartis, he served as Country President and General Manager of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 2015 to 2016, he was Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of Novartis Oncology from 2011 to 2015, and he served as Vice President, Latin America Region Head for the Oncology business unit from 2009 to 2011. During his time as Chief Commercial Officer Oncology, Mr. O’Dowd was responsible for the oncology portfolio strategy for the world’s then second-largest oncology/hematology organization, including global brand leadership, business development/licensing, and commercialization.

Mr. O’Dowd received an MBA from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University in Chicago and a B.A. from Loyola University Chicago.

Mr. O’Dowd replaces founder and former Chairman Anthony Killarney, who remains on the ONK Therapeutics Board as Director, alongside newly appointed CEO Chris Nowers, Prof Michael O’Dwyer, MD, founder and CSO, and three additional directors – George Schlich, Eunan Maguire and Issac Manke, Ph.D.

Welcoming Hugh to the Board, Anthony Killarney said, “It has been a pleasure to be the Chairman of ONK Therapeutics through its early development. The company is now on a fast growth trajectory, with multiple exciting opportunities for developing best-in-class, off-the-shelf, dual-targeted NK cell therapies. I welcome Hugh to the Board and know that his broad industry and leadership experience will be invaluable in helping steer the right path as we strive to develop life-changing medicines for patients.”

Hugh O’Dowd said, “ONK Therapeutics has the potential to establish global leadership in the allogeneic NK cell therapeutic area. It is at a very exciting stage in its development as it builds to become a multinational clinical-stage company, with a strong portfolio of product candidates and operations in both the USA and Europe. I look forward to working with the Board and Executive Team to help the company realize its ambitions.”

In October ONK Therapeutics closed a new financing round, led by US-based investor Acorn Bioventures and in November it announced expansion into the US, moving into JLABS @ San Diego, Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s flagship facility, at the heart of San Diego’s precision medicine and cell therapy cluster. Alongside expansion and recruitment in the USA, the company is also expanding its team and operations in Galway, Ireland.


ONK Therapeutics
ONK Therapeutics Ltd is an innovative cell therapy company dedicated to developing the next generation of ‘off-the-shelf’, dual-targeted NK cell therapies targeting solid and hematological cancers.

The company was founded in 2015, by Prof. O’Dwyer MD, of NUI Galway, an expert in translational multiple myeloma research, the tumor microenvironment, and exploitation of NK cells as cellular immunotherapy. Its core proprietary off-the-shelf platform is based on a dual-targeted NK cell expressing both a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) targeting a known tumor antigen and a TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand variant (TRAILv) targeting the death receptor pathway (i.e. DR4 or DR5). This unique approach has the potential to enhance efficacy by addressing both intrinsic (e.g. CAR engagement of a tumor-specific antigen) and extrinsic (e.g. signaling through the death receptor pathway) apoptotic pathways and to reduce the susceptibility to possible target antigen escape through the engagement of tumor antigen-independent TRAILv.

Its pre-clinical pipeline comprises four programs:

  • The lead program, ONKT101, is a dual-targeted NK cell therapy incorporating a CD19 CAR and TRAILv targeting DR5, intended for the treatment of relapsed/refractory B cell malignancies. This program is partnered with Avectas, with the company having responsibility for development to Phase 1
  • ONKT102 combines an optimized affinity CD38 CAR and a TRAILv targeting DR5, intended for the treatment of patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma
  • ONKT103 combines a TA-MUC1 CAR with a TRAILv targeting DR5, for the treatment of solid tumors
  • ONKT104 combines a CLEC12A CAR with a TRAILv targeting DR4, for the treatment of AML

In addition to the unique off-the-shelf, dual-targeted NK cell therapy platform, the company has a strong research focus on strategies to enhance homing and persistence, and overcome exhaustion, including the exploration of proprietary gene edits, such as the deletion of checkpoint inhibitory receptors in NK cells.

ONK Therapeutics is headquartered in the med-tech hub of Galway, Ireland, with a wholly-owned US subsidiary, ONK Therapeutics, Inc. based at JLabs @ San Diego. Shareholders include Acorn Bioventures, ALSHC (principally Seamus Mulligan), and Enterprise Ireland.

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Last Updated: 14-Jan-2021