Alchemab: One for the future and another first for Cambridge
A novel Cambridge UK life science startup – Alchemab Therapeutics – looks set for global glory by identifying and harnessing the power of naturally protective antibodies to combat a broad range of hard-to-treat diseases.
It has Jane Osbourn, formerly head of the MedImmune Cambridge operation for AstraZeneca, as chief scientific officer and a set of executives and advisers to make investors’ mouths water.
Alchemab’s proposition is predicated not on the well worn approach of why certain people succumb to certain diseases but why certain people are less affected by disease and what factors contribute to the health of the ageing well.
How can some people live to a ripe old age, often past 100, without succumbing to conditions that can cripple or kill others who are much younger?
Alchemab has a foothold in Oxford but is committing to a Cambridge base and has been hiring hard throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Significantly, it has negotiated an alliance with global genome sequencing giant Illumina, whose European research nervecentre is at Granta Park.
Understanding the immune response by deep sequencing is key to Alchemab’s ambitions to scale but then so is accessing other crucial data relating to the individuals they study, for example, the patient’s genetic background; microbiome – the genetic material of all the microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses) – that live on and inside the human gut; cognitive health and external factors such as environment and pollution.
Osbourn tells me the company has sufficient funding to comfortably get to Series A as it eyes inevitable global expansion. The Series A is not pressing and will be executed “‘when the time is right.”
Alchemab tags itself ‘the protective self antibody company’ with the aim of identifying novel unbiased targets and therapeutics by evaluating convergent protective antibody responses in groups of resilient patients. It is leveraging functional and advanced analytical approaches to evaluate antibody repertoires obtained from RNA from blood & tissue samples and its initial therapeutic focuses are on the areas of oncology, neurodegeneration and infectious diseases.
Heavyweight investors and collaborators are already on board and CEO Alex Leech, ex-Pfizer, has worked in Big Pharma and has years of experience starting biotechs. Scientific founders include Ruth McKernan of SV Health Managers and formerly CEO of Innovate UK and head of Pfizer’s site in Cambridge.
Osbourn shared with me some pretty chilling statistics covering disease areas such as breast, pancreatic, lung and inherited bowel cancer as well as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease and Frontotemporal dementia.
Alchemab is developing an impressive data gathering platform and patient sample hub that will grow exponentially over time, building profiles on individuals and populations that will help inform disease targets for drug discovery and novel therapeutics.
As Osbourn explains, self antibodies are known to have a role in modifying disease: They have been widely implicated in HIV, Amyotropic lateral sclerosis, breast cancer, malaria, auto-immune disease, MS, RA, T1DM, pneumonitis in AIREs disease and numerous neurological conditions.
The company’s platform-based approach profits from a unique combination of repertoire analysis, proteomic profiling and deep learning capabilities combined with proven therapeutics discovery expertise via a world-class team.
Its concept is entirely novel – focused on groups of resilient individuals as opposed to individual responses. This provides a higher likelihood of functional validation from the outset, Osbourn says.
The close working relationship with Illumina will enable sequencing to a greater sample depth meaning a higher chance of identifying less abundant antibodies, she adds.
And a global network of internationally leading collaborators provides a ready springboard for cross-border growth. US funders are among those to provide early stage capital and early collaborations with a partner in Europe should enable major expansion across the Channel.
Alchemab has already shown itself to be fleet-footed. It only lodged the early stage funding in the bank in November but during the lockdown put out several offers to potential new hires and also managed to produce a thought provoking paper on COVID-19.
It reported that deep sequencing of B cell receptor (BCR) heavy chains from a cohort of 19 COVID-19 patients from the UK revealed a stereotypical naive immune response to SARS-CoV-2 which is consistent across patients and may be a positive indicator of disease outcome (See https://www.biorxiv.org/).
This is only a snapshot of the exciting startup which has managed to put old heads on young shoulders in terms of the experienced practitioners steering the fortunes of a new kid on the block.