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20 January, 2016 - 10:50 By Kate Sweeney

£1.5m funding for startup fighting heart disease

Dr Robert Tansley

New medical technology from Cambridge that could prevent transplants for heart disease sufferers has won £1.5 million in seed funding.

Morphogen-IX has earned the cash to develop a new treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) that directly targets the major pathway implicated in human genetic studies. 

The potential treatment is based on the culmination of 15 years’ work by Professor Nick Morrell and his team at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He believes it has the potential to provide the first disease-modifying approach to this serious, life-limiting condition.

PAH affects about 6,500 people in the UK, mostly women in their 30s, though it can affect people of any age, and is caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels that lead from the heart to the lungs. As these arteries narrow, it becomes harder for the heart to pump blood through to the lungs, leading to breathlessness and heart failure.

Current therapies may alleviate some of the symptoms but there are no medical options that modify the course or outcome of the disease. Given the relatively young average age of diagnosis and the high mortality rate associated with PAH, it has a devastating impact on both sufferers and their families.

Professor Morrell leads the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Cambridge and is research director of the National Pulmonary Hypertension Service at Papworth Hospital.

Morphogen-IX has worked closely with BHF and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, to license the intellectual property arising from Professor Morrell’s research. As a result, Morphogen-IX has raised the seed funding, led by Index Ventures, along with Cambridge Innovation Capital and Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds. The company now intends to confirm the best drug candidate to take forward into full development.
Professor Morrell said: “We are delighted that our BHF funded research has led to the discovery of a new potential treatment for this rare but important disease. Our new company, Morphogen-IX, is the most efficient vehicle to take this exciting approach forward rapidly into clinical development.”

Dr Robert Tansley (pictured above), investment director at Cambridge Innovation Capital, added: “The creation of Morphogen-IX represents another exciting opportunity to translate world-leading science conducted in Cambridge into a novel treatment that has the potential to bring benefit for this serious condition.”

According to the associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, Professor Jeremy Pearson, there is “a clear and urgent need for an effective treatment for PAH that means people don’t need a transplant.”

He said: “If clinical trials prove positive, this research will lead to substantial benefits for patients with this horrible disease. A major challenge for medical research is to take promising discoveries from the lab into clinical trials. This investment will help build on the progress at Cambridge made possible by donations to the BHF.”

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