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René Russo
Xilio Therapeutics

07 March 2023

What is the unique contribution of Xilio to the life science sector, and your vision for the company?


At Xilio, we believe that cancer treatment can be revolutionized for patients by developing medicine that effectively tricks tumors into activating their own treatment, while protecting the patient's healthy tissue, organs, and cells from the effects of cancer therapy.


This is known as tumor-selective activation. It is intended to improve cancer therapy by directing its power precisely where it is needed, inside the tumor, while also increasing tolerance so that higher doses and more potent combinations can be used. This type of innovation (which we call geographic precision medicine) has yet to be fully explored; it is a completely new area that we believe will be the future of cancer medicine.

We spoke with many patients who are undergoing promising cancer treatments but are unable to continue them due to toxicity. We are inspired by these stories and believe that this approach can address a wide range of cancer types, including many that still have a high mortality rate despite recent advances.

What progress have you made thus far, and what key therapies are in your pipeline?

We have created three clinical programs since the company's inception. The first is XTX 101, a tumor-selective anti-CTLA 4 molecule; the second is XTX-202, a tumor-selective IL-2 molecule; and the third, XTX 301, a tumor-selective IL-12 molecule, for which we just received IND clearance from the U.S. FDA and we anticipate initiating a clinical trial this quarter. 

What makes our approach unique is that these molecules are known to have anti-tumor activity but are highly toxic.  If we can figure out how to focus it in the tumor rather than having it active all over the body, we can give patients more options, higher doses, and begin combining these therapies that are currently not even considered for combination due to their toxicity.

Can these solutions be extended beyond oncology? If so, what other diseases do you intend to target?

The simple answer is yes. We began with solid tumors in cancer because they are so clearly defined - the tumor micro-environment has distinct characteristics that distinguish it from healthy tissue and that we can leverage. However, I believe that this geographic precision will likely be the future of all medicine. A potential next step is in auto-immune diseases which present tissue inflammation, which means we can use the hallmarks of that inflammation to activate our agents locally.

The global pandemic has had a massive impact on all industries. What impact did it have on your company and the broader life science sector?

It was quite an experience because the company was at a critical juncture when the pandemic began, transitioning from research to clinical trials. We have a large team focused on laboratory experiments, so we could not go completely virtual; we needed to be here running experiments in the lab. Our team was incredibly adaptable; we worked in shifts to limit the number of people in the lab at any given time, and we managed to stay on track and get a lot done. That being said, we also discovered that we do not all need to be in the office at all times, and that we can collaborate with partners without ever meeting in person. It definitely opened our eyes to a new type of flexibility.

It is also worth noting that COVID has had an impact on the clinical trial landscape, ushering in a new era of digital and decentralized trials. Telemedicine became an important part of this process, and overall, this event pushed and expanded our thinking in ways that will benefit us in the long run.

R&D in life sciences necessitates large investments. What is your assessment of the current funding environment?

The rapidly changing biotech market and the acute near-term issues are a major concern, particularly for early-stage biotechs like ours. This is likely one of the most difficult capital markets we have faced as an industry in recent decades. Historical sources of funding have become less available than they once were, requiring prioritization and a very high bar for investing in and moving therapies forward. The disadvantage of this lack of funding is that the investment and biotech community may abandon promising early-stage ideas.

On the flip side, we anticipate increased funding and collaboration with pharmaceutical partners. Biotechs have historically been a vital source of innovation that has benefited all of us. They have played an important role in bringing solutions forward, including in the case of the global pandemic. The ecosystem requires small biotechs to continue to innovate, and I anticipate that pharma partners will be willing and happy to invest in small companies throughout the innovation cycle and share some of the risk, in different ways than they have in the past. Overall, I believe that funding will come back in time as we navigate through the macroenvironment headwinds and continue to advance innovative science that brings meaningful benefit to patients. 

Is there a final message you would like to leave our readers with? 

At Xilio, we envision a future in which cancer is no longer a grim diagnosis because we have powerful treatments that eliminate the problem at its source without the severe  systemic side effects. We believe that geographic precision medicine and appropriate delivery will be critical components of the future, and that our patients deserve it. They deserve effective therapies that protect the rest of the healthy body.

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