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20 May, 2019 - 13:35 By Tony Quested

$1.3 billion boost for LifeArc to conjure new therapies

LifeArc Melanie Lee

East of England research powerhouse LifeArc has received almost $1.3 billion investment to accelerate the development of new therapies across a broad raft of disease areas.

The Stevenage UK-based medical research charity has received $1.297 billion from CPPIB Credit Europe S.à r.l. – a wholly owned subsidiary of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – for a portion of its royalty interest in Keytruda®* (pembrolizumab), US company MSD’s anti-PD-1 therapy.

LifeArc secured rights to royalties from pembrolizumab as a result of a collaboration to humanise the antibody-based therapy now marketed by MSD. 

The transaction will make LifeArc one of the UK’s leading medical research charities by size of its investment assets and allows it to significantly expand its mission of advancing research that has direct benefits for human health.

Dr Melanie Lee, CEO, LifeArc, said: “At LifeArc, we advance promising research into new health interventions for patients and the public benefit. This agreement with CPPIB allows us to increase our support for new approaches and collaborations and bolster access to our expertise and resources. 

“Ultimately, we can support life sciences research and accelerate the development of new therapies, diagnostics and devices for those people in greatest need.”

In 2016, LifeArc sold a small proportion of its pembrolizumab royalty interest for $150 million to a private equity fund. It used part of this capital to establish two funds, worth £30 million: the LifeArc Philanthropic Fund provides grants for translational research in rare diseases and the LifeArc Seed Fund invests in nascent or early stage spin-out companies.

Dr John Stageman, LifeArc’s chairman, said: “The agreement with CPPIB is a once in a generation opportunity, providing LifeArc with additional resources to accelerate our work. 

“The board of trustees are committed to ensuring our resources enhance the translation of medical innovation and boost the UK life science ecosystem. We are continuing to evolve our strategy and approach to maximise the impact on innovation, sustainability and patient benefit.” 

Thanks to royalty payments from the sales of licensed drugs, LifeArc has the ability to fund collaborations and science projects directly to support the early translation of biomedical innovations.

LifeArc works closely with a range of partners, including global pharmaceutical companies, patient groups and other funders. Through its networks, it explores new operational models, each with the potential to progress technologies for unmet medical needs further towards the patients who need them.

Its academic collaborations focus on specific disease targets. These are global in nature, working with UK-based academics as well as those in in the US, Germany and China. 

LifeArc says it continues to seek out exciting, novel science from academics across the globe and is prioritising projects with a focus on infections, immune oncology and neuroscience, particularly in pain.

It has a number of active collaborations in which it aims to provide opportunities to access additional resources and capabilities and bring more solutions to more patients more quickly. As an example, it is collaborating with key partners to identify and target a range of novel antimicrobial targets.

Researchers in its Centre for Therapeutics Discovery work on projects covering a wide range of indications including cancer, pain, neurodegeneration, bacterial infection, osteoporosis and diabetes.

In terms of technology transfer, expert teams of business managers and IP specialists from LifeArc help progress and protect work as well as evaluate the translational potential of research portfolios and advise on funding and routes to market.

Reaching deep, LifeArc – established in 2000 to translate the work of UK Medical Research Council research scientists, including those in Cambridge – has to date signed over 400 commercial licences, helped launch 12 drugs on the market and the formation of 18 startups, generated more than £60m in revenues for the MRC, humanised two antibodies now on the market plus six antibodies currently in clinical trials.

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