Which biotechs will be stealing the show in 2018? These are some of the most exciting biotech companies in London that you will find this year.
London is undoubtedly one of the biggest hubs for biotech companies in Europe. A recent study revealed that the British capital was the one that received most life sciences investment in 2017, by far. Still, it has a lot of competition from the other two cities in the “golden triangle” — Oxford and Cambridge.
With fresh cash injected into the city, I’m sure biotech companies in London will bring some good news this year. I’ve gathered a list of some of the most exciting biotechs in the city that are worth keeping an eye on. They are listed in no particular order.
Nightstar Therapeutics, previously known as NightstaRx, is developing gene therapies for genetic diseases that affect vision. Its most advanced treatment has just entered a Phase III trial testing its ability to restore vision in patients with choroideremia, a genetic disorder that causes night blindness and gradual loss of vision.
With this gene therapy, Nightstar might be competing with Spark Therapeutics, the developer of Luxturna — the first gene therapy approved in the US that targets a genetic disease. Spark Therapeutics has another gene therapy in the pipeline targeting choroideremia, but it is still in Phase I/II testing, which gives Nightstar a good advantage as a first mover.
To support the development of its gene therapy, Nightstar raised a €40M round plus a $75 IPO on the Nasdaq last year.
Last December, Orchard Therapeutics raised the biggest biotech round of the year in London. The impressive £85M (€96M) Series B round is supporting the development of Orchard’s gene therapy for children born with adenosine deaminase severe combined immunodeficiency (ADA-SCID).
There is already a gene therapy for this rare disease — GSK’s Strimvelis — but it is only available in a single hospital in Milan for all European patients. Orchard is developing a version that could allow children to be treated in their home countries.
But the biotech company is not stopping there. In addition to other two gene therapies in its pipeline, Orchard has just bought GSK’s rare disease portfolio of gene therapies in exchange for a 20% equity stake.
A spin-off of University College London (UCL), Autolus focuses on the development of next-generation CAR-T therapy. Although this technology has proven very effective in difficult-to-treat forms of cancer, there are still concerns regarding its safety after several people died during clinical trials.
Autolus has a unique approach to treat T cell lymphoma that targets cancer cells without killing healthy T cells required to protect the body from infections and other external threats. After raising a big $80M (€68M) in Series C last September, the company is getting ready to test its cancer treatment in humans.
Cell Medica is one of Europe’s best-funded biotechs, with a total of €150M raised in private funding since its foundation in 2006. The company develops personalized cell immunotherapies for infectious disease and cancer.
Cell Medica’s most advanced treatment, currently in Phase II trials, employs natural T cells to target viral proteins in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma whose cancer is associated with infections of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
Last year, Heptares co-founder Richard Henderson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, a technology used by Heptares Therapeutics to study protein structures in order to find new drug targets.
Heptares focuses on the study of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), a large group of proteins that, despite making up 40% of all the world’s drugs — treating everything from diabetes to cancer — are especially difficult to drug due to their unstable structure.
The technology of Heptares, which since 2015 is a subsidiary of the Japanese pharma Sosei, has attracted multiple partnerships with other biotechs and big pharma, most remarkably a €3Bn deal with Allergan that has so far yielded a drug candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Silence Therapeutics is the only European biotech developing a new generation of medicines based on RNA interference, which makes use of a natural cellular process to block the expression of disease proteins. The first of this type of therapies, developed by US-based Alnylam, might be in the market as soon as this year.
Silence’s licensee Quark Therapeutics is now running Phase II/III trials testing the RNAi technology in patients with acute kidney injury and delayed graft function.
But while waiting for results, Silence has decided to take Alnylam to court on the basis that four of its drugs require a license.
Motif Bio is a developer of new antibiotics, whose demand is growing as antibiotic resistance keeps spreading and threatening to be killing more people than cancer in 30 years.
Motif Bio is one of very few to have successfully completed a Phase III trial with a new antibiotic drug. Its antibiotic, iclaprim, has proven to be effective against some of the deadliest antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), without inducing toxicity in the kidneys.
The company expects a decision by the FDA regarding the approval of iclaprim in early 2019.
Immodulon Therapeutics is a company with an unusual approach to fight cancer. Its therapies are composed of heat-killed mycobacteria, which act as immune modulators to improve the immune system’s natural ability to find and kill cancer cells.
Immodulon’s former CEO told me last year that one of the advantages of this approach is that it doesn’t induce as much toxicity as other cancer treatments. Given the concerns of severe side effects and deaths reported in clinical trials caused by the new generation of cancer drugs, namely checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T therapy, these approaches with reduced toxicity might be the key to save weakened patients that cannot undergo strong immunotherapies.
The most advanced of Immodulon’s experimental treatments has already completed a Phase II trial where it showed to be effective in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
ReViral is working on the development of an antiviral drug for children infected with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Though it usually leads to mild cold symptoms, in at-risk populations including premature babies and children undergoing immunosuppression treatments.
The antiviral drug has recently completed a Phase IIa clinical trial where it proved to reduce the viral load and the infection symptoms. The next step for the company will be to test it on children to determine if it is also effective in this particular high-risk population.
Located right next to Hyde Park and Imperial College London, TopiVert is developing treatments based on narrow spectrum kinase inhibitors (NSKIs). Kinase inhibitors are commonly used as a cancer therapy, but they often cause severe side effects because kinases are involved in many other physiological processes. TopiVert targets just a narrow selection of kinases in the target organ to avoid the side effects while fighting inflammation effectively.
In December, the company reported data from a first clinical trial that revealed its lead candidate drug showed promise as a treatment for dry eye syndrome, where it has potential to work better than the current treatments — namely, Shire’s Xiidra.
A month later, the company also revealed positive clinical results for a second application of its technology to the treatment of ulcerative colitis.
What did you think of these biotech companies in London? Do you know of any others that might deserve to be included? Leave a comment below.
This article was originally published on April 2016 and has since been edited and updated.
Images via Shutterstock
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