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28 August, 2012 - 08:07 By Tony Quested

Cellzome spin-out seeks funding

Dr Alan Watt, CEO of Autophagix (left) and Richard Hale COO

A Cambridge UK startup specialising in inflammatory diseases is seeking funding to exploit technology it has spun out of Cellzome.

Autophagix has been formed by a small team of drug discovery scientists who have decided to go it alone. It plans to spin out some intellectual property from Cellzome, a company previously based at Chesterford Research Park that was acquired by GSK this year.

The Autophagix team has decided to base itself at Chesterford to pursue its focus on drugs that will enhance a process known as ‘autophagy’, a biological revitalising process used by the human body.

“What is becoming clear is that the process of autophagy can often go wrong, either because of your genes, your environment, or most likely a combination of both,” said Dr Alan Watt, CEO of Autophagix.

“This contributes to chronic autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease and Lupus and we are designing drug treatments to enhance autophagy and improve prognosis. For us, it is all about the patient.”

Over the next three years, Autophagix plans to progress promising drug candidates into the clinic to test this new approach to helping sufferers of these debilitating diseases.

The co-founders, Dr Watt and Dr Richard Hale, have more than 50 years research experience between them and are keen to do something novel in the drug discovery field.

“Working as a small, highly focused, creative team is the way to do breakthrough science,” said Dr Hale, who is chief operating officer.

Autophagix is currently seeking funding for its exciting drug portfolio and would be keen to hear from potential investors interested in their research.

Alan Watt has over 25 years drug discovery experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. He was the former head of drug metabolism and pharmacology at Merck, before moving in 2006 to GSK as head of preclinical development for the Neurology Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery (CEDD).

In 2008 he was made VP of the newly-formed Immuno-inflammation CEDD where he led the start-up of a discovery performance unit in Philadelphia. In 2010 he joined Cellzome in Cambridge as VP of Therapeutics where he has successfully led the company’s drug discovery efforts, delivering a number of drug candidates before becoming CEO of Autophagix.

Richard Hale has worked in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors for over 24 years. He completed a PhD in biochemistry at Cambridge and joined Glaxo Group Research where he applied molecular biology and protein expression technologies to the drug discovery process.

He was involved in the establishment of the Cell Map Incubator at GSK, and was part of the team that spun this out via a trade sale and established Cellzome in the UK. At Cellzome he made the transition into an operations role as site head while maintaining an interest in preclinical drug development before becoming COO of Autophagix.

Chesterford Research Park bosses are thrilled at the development. Martin Sylvester of Churchmanor Estates, the joint venture partner with Aviva Investors on Chesterford Research Park, said: “The management team of this new spin out have been working from Chesterford Research Park and were very happy to remain in a high quality science park environment with other R & D businesses.

“They were keen to start their new venture here and as support for new and smaller technology-based companies is a priority for us, we were happy to help. Autophagix has taken space in the Mansion House,”

Chesterford Research Park is at the heart of the life sciences cluster now well-developed south of Cambridge. The park’s prestigious environment and range of facilities has attracted leading bioscience names including Biofocus, Illumina Inc. and Isogenica.

New space for startups is available in the Science Village building which offers lab and office suites from 1,515 sq ft up to 28,000 sq ft.

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