Skip to main content

Cullinan Oncology to Develop Novel EBNA1 Inhibitor Discovered by The Wistar Institute

CAMBRIDGE, MA and PHILADELPHIA — January 30, 2019 — Cullinan Oncology, LLC and The Wistar Institute today announced an agreement to accelerate the development of VK-2019, a novel EBNA1 (Epstein-Barr Nuclear Antigen 1) inhibitor discovered by The Wistar Institute.

VK-2019 will be developed by Cullinan Apollo, a company formed and managed by Cullinan Oncology LLC. Under the terms of the agreement, The Wistar Institute has granted an exclusive worldwide license for the development and commercialization of the EBNA1 inhibitor to Cullinan Apollo. Wistar has received an up-front license fee and an equity interest in Cullinan Apollo, with the potential to receive additional downstream milestones and royalty payments as the asset progresses.

“We look forward to advancing this highly novel, first-in-class asset into the clinic over the coming weeks,” said Leigh Zawel, CSO, Small Molecules at Cullinan Oncology, LLC. “The Wistar scientists have spent nearly a decade developing this molecule, and we appreciate their confidence in our ability to successfully develop this EBNA1 inhibitor.”

EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus), a well-established driver of various cancers, is critically reliant on the viral DNA-binding factor EBNA1 for viral genome maintenance. This new compound potently inhibits EBNA1 function. In preclinical models of EBV-associated cancer, it eliminated EBV, resulting in tumor growth inhibition. Development of this compound was largely supported by an investment of over U.S. $10 million from Wellcome, a biomedical research charity based in the United Kingdom.

“We are excited to work with the Cullinan Apollo team to embark on the next phase of clinical development of our lead therapeutic candidate for EBV-associated cancers,” said Paul M. Lieberman, Ph.D., Hilary Koprowski, M.D., Endowed Professor, professor and leader of the Gene Expression and Regulation Program, and director of the Center for Chemical Biology and Translational Medicine at The Wistar Institute. “This drug is exemplary of the results of the hard work of my lab – most notably Dr. Troy Messick – together with our committed collaborators at Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center, Inc. and invaluable input from Wellcome and its advisors. We need exceptional partners to work with us to move our discoveries forward, and this is one example of that.”

About Cullinan Oncology
Cullinan Oncology was formed to develop a diversified portfolio of highly promising single asset oncology opportunities through both internal and external means and to do so in a unique, cost-efficient model that leverages a central management team and shared services model to drive speed and efficiency. For additional information, please visit

About The Wistar Institute
The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible.

About Wellcome
Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.

Media Contacts:

For Cullinan:
Matt Burke
+1 603.315.0618

For Wistar:
Tara Yates
+1 215.898.3826

For press inquiries or more information please contact