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13 February, 2018 - 14:30 By News Desk

Raising ambition in the healthcare sector – spotlight on Cambridge Innovation Capital

If success in the healthcare sector is measured by the speed at which a company can reach its milestones, then trailblazers within the Cambridge Innovation Capital portfolio are performing very well.

Dr Robert Tansley, Investment Director at CIC, comments: “The trend is one of growing companies that are achieving significant funding rounds to fuel their progress. In the last two years three of our portfolio companies, Bicycle Therapeutics, Carrick Therapeutics and Cambridge Medical Robotics, have each raised over $50 million. 

“Over recent months we have seen Exvastat and Carrick move drug candidates into clinical trials. Inivata’s technology has gained a CE mark and Congenica achieved ISO 27001 and NHS IGT accreditation.
These are all major achievements within a relatively short time frame, showing increasing maturity in the CIC portfolio. They all have significant links to the Cambridge cluster, highlighting the commercial strength of the science developed here.”

Rise of ambition

Dr Tansley believes these developments show a rise in ambition within the sector, underpinned by the availability of patient capital, which provides long-term capital. He says: “The impact of patient capital within the Cambridge Cluster is beginning to show results.
“In the past, healthcare companies had fewer options when looking to raise finance. Companies would have to go for an early IPO when it is still very risky for the investor as it places a young company, with inherent uncertainty, on the public stage.

“A private round provides greater certainty over funding. Founders can be more ambitious, focus on the core technology and address international markets sooner. We are seeing this across our healthcare companies, with Congenica moving into China and the US, and Inivata establishing a CLIA-accredited laboratory in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.”

Developing category leaders

Identifying disruptive technologies at an early stage is a strength of CIC. Although it invests in only a small percentage of the hundreds of opportunities it sees, that does not mean the others lack potential, reflecting the strong pipeline of companies within the cluster.

Dr Tansley explains that the technologies selected for the CIC portfolio are those that have the potential to become new industry sectors. A good example is liquid biopsy, a promising non-invasive method for the management of cancer. Rather than remove tissue from the cancer, which can be difficult to reach, the biopsy samples fragments of  its DNA released into the blood, to gain invaluable information about the tumour, its susceptibility to certain medicines and its response to treatment. 

Inivata is at the forefront of this technology, which has a potential global market value of $4 billion (Market Research Future 17 Jan 2018). 

Its InVision technology platform, which was developed at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK CI), can provide actionable data for every stage of the treatment cycle including: monitoring treatment response; detecting relapse; identifying key mutations that impact future treatments and providing reassurance that the cancer has not returned.

This allows the development of a personalised treatment plan for the patient that can be closely monitored non-invasively and in a cost-efficient manner.

The company has several clinical validation studies underway for its first product targeted at the management of non-small cell lung cancer. These studies compare Inivata’s liquid biopsy with tissue-based molecular profiling; promising early results are confirming the potential of the approach.

Pioneering drug repurposing

While Cambridge is at the forefront in the discovery of novel medicines, as our understanding of human biology improves there are also opportunities to utilise established drugs in novel indications. As these drugs have already gone through the regulatory process for treatment of one condition, applying them to a new disease speeds up the evaluation process and substantially reduces the cost of development.

CIC portfolio company Exvastat is using this approach to develop a novel treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), for which there is currently no approved pharmaceutical therapy.

Exvastat has begun a clinical pharmacology trial to evaluate the use of repurposing imatinib, a treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia that has shown promising results in clinical case studies of seriously ill patients with ARDS-like conditions.

David Cavalla, CEOI of Exvastat Ltd, explains that the strategy is backed by strong intellectual property and good preclinical validation. He says: “ARDS is a very serious condition with a high mortality rate – more people die every year from ARDS than breast or prostate cancer. We are using a repurposing strategy to reformulate an existing drug and fast-track its development for this serious condition.”

Novel approaches to oncology

Another company meeting its milestones is Carrick Therapeutics. The company’s first programme came out of the lab of Prof Steve Jackson of the Gurdon Institute and it raised $95 million in October 2016 from investors, including CIC, to help achieve its ambition. Carrick has recently announced that its most advanced programme, CT7001 – the first oral cyclin-dependent Kinase 7 (CDK7) selective inhibitor – had begun phase 1 clinical trials. 

Facilitating personalised medicine

Personalised medicine supported by genomic and multi-omic analysis is another growth area with the potential to revolutionise medicine. Identifying the genetic origins of a disease creates new targets for treatment and offers the opportunity for a cure rather than just treatment of the symptoms. 

Congenica is a world leader in genomic interpretation; identifying which mutations are associated with disease. Congenica’s underlying technology was developed through a close collaboration between the NHS and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and is now being used in the majority of NHS genome centres. Since CIC funded the Sanger Institute spinout in 2014, the company has grown from three people working in a portacabin to an international organisation employing over 60 staff and supporting the growth of a new sector. 

Dr Tansley concludes: “By supporting these category leading companies, we are accelerating the growth of new industry sectors; this is where real economic value will be generated within the wider ecosystem. As the cluster develops, so does the knowledge of how best to support and grow these companies and we are seeing the fruits of our efforts as the portfolio matures.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Robert Tansley

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