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5 February, 2018 - 21:11 By Tony Quested

Medical pioneer in running for Academic Entrepreneur award

Professor Jim Huntington is a classic role model for Cambridge as its ideas continue to change and shape the world. His efforts as a medical trailblazer make him a prime candidate for the inaugural Cambridge Enterprise Academic Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Jim is Professor of Molecular Haemostasis. His research focuses on blood clotting and applying discoveries into medicines for thrombosis and haemophilia. 

In 2013 he co-founded XO1 to develop an antithrombotic. The startup raised $10 million Series A round and was and sold to global giant Janssen 22 months later. 

Prof Huntington has since founded two other companies in the thrombosis space – SuperX in 2016 which raised $11m Series A cash and Rebalance Therapeutics in 2017 (£1m).
He founded ApcinteX to treat haemophilia in 2014; the venture raised £14m Series A capital in December 2016. To treat antitrypsin deficiency he then founded Z Factor in 2015 and that gleaned £7m – also in a Series A round -in 2017). He has also co-founded Cambridge ProteinWorks, a protein production company.

Business Weekly featured Professor Huntington long before Janssen swooped for XO1 which was named Startup of the Year in the Business Weekly Awards just weeks after its eye-catching antibody technology was made public.

Prof Huntington and co-founder Dr Trevor Baglin described the antibody – ichorcumab  – as “the blood of the gods” and a “one in a billion” medical breakthrough, comparing it to Fleming’s discovery of penicillin 85 years ago.

The novel anticoagulant has the potential to prevent heart attack and stroke without causing bleeding. 

The chance discovery came when Dr Baglin was fighting to save the life of a woman admitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in 2008 with potentially fatal head injuries and symptoms consistent with severe haemophilia. 

To the medic’s amazement the bleeding stopped and Dr Baglin observed that the phenomenon was down to an antibody in the patient’s blood that caused “extraordinary anticoagulation in the absence of bleeding” – preventing lethal clotting.

He called in colleague Professor Huntington at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, a world leader in the field, to design a synthetic version of the antibody. 

They realised pretty much straight away that they had stumbled on “the holy grail of anticoagulant drugs” and a key weapon in the fight against thrombosis and ensuing heart attacks.

The technology was licensed to the new business by Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm and XO1 believed it has already trimmed years off the traditional drug development timeline.

Peter DiBattiste, global development head of cardiovascular for Janssen Research & Development, said at the time of the acquisition: “Ichorcumab provides an excellent complement to the Janssen cardiovascular portfolio. 
“Given Janssen’s leadership in the fields of anticoagulation and biologics, we are well positioned to explore the potential of this next generation anticoagulant.”

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