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12 April, 2006 - 09:37 By Staff Reporter

Cash for ‘safer drugs’ firm

A Cambridge University spin-out has raised the seed funding it needs to test new technology that could predict whether a drug is going to be toxic to humans.

SimuGen, which Business Weekly first covered in February 2005, has completed a £75k financing from a syndicate of Cambridge business angels, with a further cash boost coming in the form of a DTI R&D Grant. Part of the angel financing came from the Great Eastern Investment Forum.

The funding will allow the company to complete proof of concept trials on its predictive toxicogenomics technology.

Dr Quin Wills, CSO and part of the founding scientific team said: “Thanks to the Business Weekly article, we managed to take local interest in SimuGen up a notch. So much so that we were asked by a local investment forum to present our case after they had read the article.

“That fundraising ended up providing half of our current investment, and triggered the process for us. I imagine than one day I will look at certain crucial moments that helped nudge us in the right direction, and the Business Weekly article will probably be one of those moments.”

The initial funding, alongside the grant, will allow the company to undertake research into a number of computational approaches to the analysis of biomarker expression data.

The company takes a multidisciplinary approach incorporating molecular biology, genomics, gene expression profiling, bioinformatics, computational biology and mathematical modelling. The company’s area of innovation is in the mathematical algorithms used to analyse the gene expression profiling data.

In simple terms, it uses expression profiles of genes known to have a link to toxicity to predict which others will also have a toxic effect. The company will concentrate initially on the lucrative pharmaceutical market, but it plans to diversify as the company matures.

The information will, SimuGen hopes, help drug developers to prioritise which compounds enter pre clinical animal toxicology studies and avoid unnecessary, expensive and time consuming failures in human clinical trials.

“Estimates of the cost of drug development are growing ever higher. Predicting the likely human toxicology of drug candidates before they go too far along this expensive road will, we believe, be a useful addition to the pharmaceutical industry’s armoury,” Dr Wills said.

With the horrors of the Parexel drug trial having only just receded from the nation’s TV sets and newspaper pages, the technology will have particular resonance within the industry, although the company itself is careful not to comment on this specific case.

Experienced life sciences investor Andy Allars, who started as mentor to the venture before taking a more permanent role as chairman, said the latest funding round would take the company through to about October or November. At that stage, he said, SimuGen will seek to raise further finance to fund product development mode.

The company hopes to release its first product at the end of 2007 or beginning of 2008.

Eventually SimuGen’s markets will also include the chemical, agrichem, food and cosmetics industries, given additional impetus by EU policy such as the Cosmetics Directive, eliminating animal testing on cosmetics by 2013, and REACH, the initiative to test all chemicals used in the environment.

The company recently moved from Cambridge Science Park’s innovation centre to premises at Oakington Business Park.


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