The week that was in UK Life Sciences – 3 November 2014

While the world has fretted about the spectre of Ebola in our midst and the terrible impact on Africa, the issue of antibiotic resistance has remained very much at the forefront of a number of governments and global organisations like the WHO.  A key issue has been how to make R&D surrounding antibiotics financially viable, a major disincentive for companies looking to come up with the next generation of antibiotics as older versions become increasingly ineffective and leave the population especially prey to virulent forms such as MRSA.

Now comes news that Europe’s Innovative Medicines Initiative has committed some $12 million to a public-private consortium called DRIVE-AB to come up with a new economic model for antibiotic R&D over a three-year period.  A gaggle of Big Pharma heavyweights and the specialist biotech Cubist have signed up for the project in teaming with European academic centres to tackle the issue.  With infection resistance to multiple drugs racking up annual societal costs of €1.5 billion in the EU alone with 25,000 deaths, it is vital to find a way to alter antibiotic R&D from a high-risk, low-return field to one that can offer attractive returns.  Absent this sort of attraction, further companies will exit the field and we will find ourselves short on options when this really hits home.

More positive news came on the UK front last week with Advent Life Sciences raising a new fund of $235 million to invest in European biotechs, though some of the funds will inevitably find their way across the Atlantic.  October was a big month for European funds with four funds raising €421 million with that total potentially swelling to €634 million if each fund reaches its closing target.

Charities continue to play a growing role on the UK scene and last week saw Cancer Research UK join forces with Leukemia & Lymphoma Research to advance treatments for blood cancers to clinical proof-of-concept.  LLR will provide candidates from its internal pipeline and share the cost of moving them through preclinical research and up to Phase II, while CRUK will run the clinical trials across the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre network that it co-funds with the UK Department of Health.

Bristol-Myers Squibb struck a $475 million option deal with the UK’s F-star Alpha, a spinout of Cambridge company F-star, another in the stable of UK monoclonal antibody companies that also include Kymab and Greg Winters’ Bicycle Therapeutics.  This legacy has of course been well established by previous companies such as Domantis (acquired by GSK) and Cambridge Antibody Technology (acquired by AstraZeneca), which of course developed Humira, the world’s current top-selling drug and a mainstay of the Abbvie pipeline.

Finally, the UK government has committed to investing £150 million into clinical trial infrastructure through the MRC’s Clinical Research Capital Initiative.  With charities, devolved administrations, universities and other groups also providing funds, the result is a pool of £230 million to finance 23 projects.  Project exemplars include the Institute of Cancer Research hoping to revolutionise radiation treatment by targeting tumours more accurately, a team from seven leading UK universities working together to advance the next frontier on molecular biology and single-cell genomics, and teams from universities in Leeds and York pioneering the SABRE imaging method to increase the signal of an MRI image up to 100,000 times.  The hope is that the 23 projects will help in identifying the causes of conditions and diseases such as cancer and dementia, and dramatically speed up diagnosis and treatment.

I hope everyone has a spectacular week.