Glycostem Therapeutics B.V is a pioneer in the field of Natural Killer Cell immunotherapy, developing innovative therapies for the treatment of different types of cancer. John Veluchamy explains how that works.

John Veluchamy (India, 1984) came to Europe in 2011, to study Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at King’s College in London. Through the Marie Curie European Scholarship Programme, he ended up in Amsterdam where he received his PhD in 2018 from VU University Amsterdam. His field of study is in exploring the use of cord blood stem cell derived NK cells towards treatment in various solid cancers. Recently, allogeneic NK cell therapies have been making headlines for their ability to kill cancer cells. The toxic side effects of NK cell therapies are also less compared to CAR-T cell therapies,” says Veluchamy. He has been working at Glycostem for almost two years now and lives in Eindhoven with his wife and daughter. “We live there in a very child-friendly neighbourhood. That works out very well.”

Glycostem is a biotech company that does clinical stage research into the applicability of Natural Killer (NK) cells in the treatment of various types of cancer. Veluchamy: “NK cells are naturally present in our body and fight against viral infections and cancer cells. In a number of diseases, such as leukaemia, lymphoma, solid tumours and AIDS, we see that the immune cells such as NK cells and T cells are functionally defective or highly reduced in numbers, thus requiring an external supply of functionally active cells to repopulate and fight against cancers. Glycostem’s mission to manufacture NK cells from cord blood stem cells and treat cancer patients could play a pivotal role in combating this deadly disease. The company has successfully treated leukaemia patients in phase I trials, and is now moving forward to treat more patients in leukaemia and myeloma in the coming year.”

Veluchamy is working towards optimising and upscaling the production process to explore the possibility of infusing multiple doses to the patient and manufacturing multiple batches to treat various cancer patients. “At Glycostem, we use umbilical cord blood stem cell derived NK cells. The advantage of this is that it can be administered to any patient under doctor’s guidance unlike CAR-T cells which are patient specific.” The goal of Veluchamy’s research is in line with Glycostem’s vision to develop an affordable, widely applicable cellular therapy against various types of cancer, an ‘off the shelf drug, ready to be shipped on doctor’s request to meet the unmet need for treating cancer patients’ as Veluchamy describes it.

Veluchamy’s great involvement in the research is also very personal. His dream to study in the UK was made possible due to the support from his uncle and aunt, who lived in the UK. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. She went through several cycles of chemotherapy over a period of 18 years and died at the age of 51,” says Veluchamy. “Having seen the struggles and the side effects of the drugs which can equally deteriorate your quality of life as well, she is the main inspiration for me to work on a widely applicable cancer drug with as few side effects as possible. It is encouraging to see that clinical studies into our therapy at Radboud University are showing good results, extending the life span of the leukaemia patients being treated.”

“With the arrival of the European Medical Agency in the Netherlands, which until recently was based in London, the Netherlands is becoming increasingly important. The pharmaceutical science industry in the Netherlands is now participating in the world top. Pivot Park is an important player,” says Veluchamy. “A number of key pharmaceutical companies have been established here, which is very inspiring for everyone.”