UK Health & Life Sciences Sector News

Since 2000, BELS has been developing and strengthening connections with influential British-educated life scientists around the world. Since moving to London in 2010, we’ve become embedded in the UK health and life sciences and established relationships with leaders across the sector. In 2016 we began curating and disseminating news of developments in the UK health and life sciences as one way to keep British-educated life scientists working abroad better connected to this important UK sector.  Our uniquely UK-focused news flow is a benefit of BELS Membership.

  • BELS scours news of the UK health and life sciences throughout the year.  BELS Brief Clips represent curated items that are periodically emailed to BELS Members with a summary, source and date for each article, along with links to more information.
  • Following is a sampling of the UK news curated for BELS members so far in 2020. (COVID news is reported separately).
  • Click here for news of this UK sector’s efforts develop solutions to COVID-19 
  • Additional perspectives of the sector can be seen in our thought leadership pieces, blogs and reports, updates on UK initiatives and more.

May-June 2020

NHS England has agreed a deal with Vertex for its three-drug cystic fibrosis therapy Kaftrio,

Freeline Therapeutics (Stevenage) closed on a $120 million extended Series C financing.

Mereo BioPharma (London) has raised $70m to develop its next-generation anti-TIGIT cancer checkpoint inhibitor drug. 

Drugs developed to treat Alzheimer’s Disease could be repurposed to prevent – or even reverse – damage done to the blood vessels of people who are obese or have type 2 diabetes, according to research by scientists at the University of Leeds and University of Dundee.

RenalytixAI (Cardiff), developer of AI-based kidney diagnostics looking to become dual-listed on both the Nasdaq and London’s AIM stock exchange, has filed for a new global offering and an $86 million US IPO; has partnered with the University of Michigan to further develop the company’s KidneyIntelX kidney disease test; and entered into a data-sharing alliance with an undisclosed global pharmaceutical company.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering state interventions to tackle the UK’s high obesity levels.

Obesity is associated with a higher risk of dementia up to 15 years later, finds a new University College London study suggesting that weight management could play a significant role in reducing risk.

AstraZeneca’s three-in-one inhaler Breztri phase 3 trial results look good, significantly cutting the rate of exacerbations compared with two dual-drug combo therapies in patients with moderate to severe COPD.

Researchers at the Universities of Nottingham and Geneva uncovered the role of a unique cyclin-cyclin-dependent protein complex that is required for rapid growth of the male cell of the malaria parasite within gut of the female mosquito.

Patients with rare diseases can see their diagnosis and care improved through whole genome sequencing, according to new research from researchers at the University of Cambridge together with Genomics England.

Illumina announced its latest cohort of startups, to include three UK companies: Alchemab Therapeutics (London); Neurolytic Healthcare (Oxford); and Tailor Bio (London).

Roche’s Rozlytrek (entrectinib) is the second histology-independent drug to be recommended by NICE for use on the Cancer Drugs Fund.

The FDA and AstraZeneca are going beyond the label with cancer drugs; AZ is starting with expanded patient details from its late-stage AURA3 trial that compared Tagrisso to platinum-based chemotherapy.

Problems in how the brain recognizes and processes novel information lie at the root of psychosis, researchers from the University of Cambridge and King’s College London have found.

The world’s largest genetic study into chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is to be launched in the UK with research led by University of Edinburgh in partnership with the UK ME/CFS Biobank at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Transatlantic life science venture firm Epidarex Capital (Edinburgh) closed Epidarex Capital III UK LP, at £102.1m, and plans to build new life science companies based on research and innovation from emerging hubs across the UK, including spinouts from highly-regarded universities.

More than 300,000 NHS check-ups with high-street pharmacists have taken place since October as a first-line stop for healthcare advice, and plans are afoot to expand such services.

The NHS is offering two contracts to pay pharmaceutical companies at the start of their work for access to innovative antibiotics, as a means of incentivising the development of new classes of these drugs to patients across the UK.

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have discovered a network of channels inside bacterial communities which could be used to kill bacteria more quickly by ‘tricking’ them into transporting drugs.

The Florida Keys is close to adding a new weapon to help control a mosquito-borne disease — genetically modified mosquitoes that produce dead offspring engineered by Oxitec (Oxford).

Professor Paul Bartolo and researchers at the University of Manchester have invented an accessible process using a temporary, 3D printed “bone brick” made of biodegradable polymer and ceramic materials which can be clicked together like a Lego brick to fit perfectly into whatever gap has been created by bomb injuries.

A new method of analysing cancer patients’ blood for evidence of the disease could be up to 10 times more sensitive than previous methods according to new Cancer Research UK -funded research led by the University of Cambridge.

Oxford Nanopore Technologies (Oxford), which added £48.4 million in new capital to the £29.3 million raised last year, expects to channel the funds into developing its nanopore sequencing devices, used worldwide in scientific research, including efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

GlaxoSmithKline will partner with Ideaya Biosciences on research into synthetic lethality, whereby a drug kills a cancer cell by knocking down two genes in combination, whereas the cell would survive if only one of those genes were targeted.

The FDA approved ViiV Healthcare’s(Brentford) Tivicay (dolutegravir) tablets and Tivicay PD (dolutegravir) tablets for oral suspension to treat HIV-1 infection in pediatric patients at least four weeks old and weighing at least 3 kg or 6.61 pounds in combination with other antiretroviral treatments.

Oxford University spinout Oxford Brain Diagnostics hope to unlock some clues to detecting Alzheimer’s by extracting critical data from MRI scans of the brain in living subjects.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified two brain phenomena that may explain some of the side-effects of ketamine.

Orchard Therapeutics (London) has laid out a plan to focus less on ultrarare diseases in favor of more prevalent ones, adding new work in dementia and Crohn’s disease and pulling funding from its programs in beta thalassemia and ADA-severe combined immunodeficiency/ “bubble boy disease.”

Scientists at the University of Birmingham examined the intricate mechanisms of the T-cells (or white blood cells) that control the body’s immune system and found that the cells could be ‘re-trained’ to stop them attacking the body’s own cells.

Researchers from the Kings College London School of Cardiovascular & Medicine Sciences have developed a novel antiarrhythmic drug that appears to be devoid of the adverse effects of those currently available, showcasing the unique advantage of testing benefit and adversity of a drug simultaneously.

Microbiotica (Cambridge UK) will collaborate with Cancer Research UK and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to develop microbiome co-therapeutics for cancer patients and identify gut bacteria signatures capable of predicting patients’ response or resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Kings College researchers have been working in collaboration to generate a CAR T-cell engineered to sense and activate in response to a characteristic specific to the solid tumour microenvironment known as ‘hypoxia’, a lack of oxygen, as tumour rarely receive sufficient oxygen supply compared to healthy organs.

AstraZeneca is to work with Accent Therapeutics on therapies targeting RNA-modifying proteins for treatment of cancer.

GSK has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing Benlysta in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

The high court of England recently ruled that Merck & Co infringed on Merck KGaA’s trademark in that country.

Achilles Therapeutics (Stevenage) has dosed the first patient in a Phase I/II study of a clonal neoantigen T cell therapy in patients with recurrent or metastatic malignant melanoma.

A startup building health kiosks deployed in Higi closed a $30 million series B round led by Babylon Health (London), which has developed a health triage chatbot, is currently used by the NHS to offer its “GP in Hand” telehealth service.

AstraZeneca unblinded a phase 3 trial of Tagrisso two years early because in postsurgery patients with EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer, Tagrisso cut the risk of disease recurrence or death by a whopping 83% compared with placebo.

Roche has doubled down on a partnership with Oncimmune (Nottingham) looking at how autoantibodies can affect patients’ clinical response to cancer immunotherapies.

A novel system which will allow rare disease patients and their caregivers to add additional information about themselves to research databases is being developed by Sano Genetics (Cambridge UK) in collaboration with Zetta Genomics (Worcester) and Genomics England (London).

GlaxoSmithKline’s DREAMM-2 study of belantamab mafodotin, its antibody-drug conjugate that targets BCMA, showed a median overall survival of nearly 15 months in heavily pretreated patients.

GlaxoSmithKline ’s asthma drug Nucala may not be on the same tier as rival Regeneron’s Dupixent, but it has scored a speedy FDA review for use in a rare blood disorder.

NICE has said that Roche’s Tecentriq (atezolizumab) plus chemotherapy should be funded by the NHS as an option for untreated extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer in second draft guidance.

With a new clearance from the FDA, smart inhaler developer Propeller Health is bringing its connected platform to AstraZeneca’s Symbicort to help digitize the treatment of asthma and COPD.

GlaxoSmithKline updated the case for its BCMA-targeting medicine belantamab mafodotin, showing that the response rate stayed steady at 32% and five patients saw their tumours vanish—two more than were reported in December.

With its $25 million equity investment in Inivata (Cambridge UK), NeoGenomics will commercialize Inivata’s InVisionFirst®-Lung liquid biopsy test in the US and further development of leading liquid biopsy technology and products.

AstraZeneca will collaborate with ArcherDX, a genomic analysis company focused on precision oncology, to detect minimal residual disease in patients with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer.

Researchers from the University of CambridgeUniversity College London and Lund University have found a way to design an antibody that can identify the toxic particles that destroy healthy brain cells – a potential advance in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

NICE has recommended regular NHS funding for Roche’s immunotherapy Tecentriq (atezolizumab) in tough-to-treat advanced triple negative breast cancer in final draft guidance, after a previous rejection.

Almost halfway into the big turnaround year that Hal Barron has blueprinted for GlaxoSmithKline ’s R&D team, the Big Pharma is unveiling a $231 million manufacturing deal to match the growing commercial portfolio.

Silence Therapeutics (London) has outlined plans to list its stock on Nasdaq, giving it access to US investors to support the progress of its internal and AstraZeneca-partnered RNA therapeutics.

A study by academics at the University of Bristol has found reductions in overall and individual antibiotic dispensing between 2013 and 2016 after evaluating, for the first time, national primary care prescribing policy on community antibiotic resistant infection.

The FDA has said AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s Enhertu could be a breakthrough in a potential new lung cancer niche, the second time in the space of a week that the drug has received the designation.

The medical charity LifeArc (London, formerly MRC Technology) and the Medical Research Council are providing £16m funding to establish a network of Gene Therapy Innovation Hubs.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser DBE FRS, Professor of Plant Development and Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, has joined UK Research and Innovation as its new Chief Executive, succeeding Sir Mark Walport.

NICE has recommended NHS funding for Roche’s Gazyvaro (obinutuzumab) in combination with bendamustine chemotherapy for follicular lymphoma,

NICE has recommended NHS funding for Pfizer’s Lorviqua (lorlatinib) for anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

The Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult (London) and Kyoto, Japan-based CiRA Foundation are launching a new collaborative research project focused on induced pluripotent stem cell characterisation to further the application of iPS cell technologies for the manufacture of regenerative medicine products.

Engineers from the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies group at the University of Glasgow report how working up a sweat could be enough to generate power for exercise monitors and other electronic devices in the future.

AstraZeneca and Merck’s Lynparza, in tandem with Roche’s Avastin, nabbed an FDA green light to treat who’d responded to an initial round of chemo but didn’t have a BRCA mutation, and those with BRCA mutations, too.

The FDA approved AstraZeneca’s Farxiga to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death or hospitalization in heart failure patients with a reduced ejection fraction and with or without Type 2 diabetes, a first in the SGLT2 class of diabetes drugs.

NICE has published final draft guidance recommending regular NHS funding for Roche’s Kadcyla (trastuzumab emtansine) in its newer use, for certain people with HER2-positive early breast cancer who are at risk of their disease returning after surgery.

Using genetic sequence and clinical data for more than 337,000 UK Biobank participants and nearly 177,000 individuals from the FinnGen cohort, a team from the University of Helsinki, Stanford University and elsewhere has narrowed in on a rare missense variant in the angiopoietin-like 7 factor-coding gene ANGPTL7 that is particularly common in Finland and appears to protect against glaucoma risk.

Crescendo Biologics (Cambridge UK) and Cancer Research UK have entered into a Clinical Development Partnership to progress one of Crescendo’s novel bispecific Humabody immunotherapies, CB213, into clinical trials targeting cancers of high unmet medical need.

A technique for measuring the ripeness of avocados, developed at Cranfield University, could reduce waste by up to 10% and can be applied to testing other fruit.

Scientists led by UKRI’s MRC-Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow and funded by UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund and the Wellcome Trust  have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria.

Scientists at the University of Nottingham have discovered how the materials used in medical implants like artificial joints can be adapted to control the immune response to them and reduce the risk of rejection.

Scientists at the University of Leeds focused on Escherichia coli, a bacteria found in animal and human intestines, have identified a key process in the way bacteria protect themselves from attack, heralding a new strategy in the hunt for antibiotics.

The US Environmental Protection Agency for the first time issued a permit to test genetically-modified mosquitoes, giving Oxitec (Oxford) permission to release genetically-engineered mosquitoes into the Florida Keys and around Houston to see if they can help limit the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses.

April 2020

Almac Discovery (Belfast) announced a research collaboration with MSD focusing on the generation of novel small molecule inhibitors against specified Deubiquitinase targets for the treatment of a range of neurodegenerative and other diseases.

Epsilogen (London), which recently in-licensed exclusive global rights to MOv18 IgE from Kings College London, announced encouraging interim data from a Cancer Research UK-sponsored phase 1 clinical study evaluating MOv18 IgE in cancer patients with advanced solid tumours.

A revolutionary new camera developed by University of the West of Scotland will detect crop disease quickly, efficiently and at a lower cost, potentially saving farmers worldwide lost produce while increasing crop yields.

Cases of Bluetongue virus which infects livestock like sheep and cattle have re-emerged stemming from a closely related strain leading researchers at the University of Glasgow and elsewhere to examine the genomes of the virus before and after that resurgence; their findings suggest that the virus was re-introduced from a contaminated frozen stock.

Astellas has acquired Nanna Therapeutics (Cambridge UK) for up to £69.5M in a deal to boost the development of drugs for unspecified age-related conditions and mitochondrial diseases. 

Compass Pathways (London), a UK-based start-up that is developing a clinical depression treatment based on psilocybin, the active ingredient found in magic mushrooms, closed an $80 million funding round to finance further research into the psychoactive compound.

GlaxoSmithKline has new data showing that its cancer immunotherapy dostarlimab works as a second-line treatment for women with endometrial cancer that has a specific genetic mutation.

An international team led by investigators at the National Cancer Institute, the University of Leeds, and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has tracked down dozens of loci linked to cutaneous melanoma susceptibility by considering the genetics of melanoma diagnoses as well as related traits or phenotypes.

AstraZeneca and partner Merck reported their drug Lynparza helped extend the lives of prostate cancer patients whose tumors had a specific genetic mutation, when compared to standard hormone treatment in a Phase 3 trial.

Scientists at the University of Glasgow found that a small piece of genetic materials could explain why arteries become increasingly stiff (which happens in high blood pressure) and why blood vessels age faster.

With the failed attempt of Sam Waksal, the once-jailed ImClone CEO, to buy Redx Pharma (Alderley Park/Cheshire), Redx turned to Redmile for a £5 million short-term debt facility to keep going in early 2020; Redx is continuing discussions with Redmile to provide further long-term funding to the business.

Sangamo and Mogrify (Cambridge UK) have executed a collaboration and exclusive license agreement for Sangamo to develop allogeneic cell therapies from Mogrify’s proprietary induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells and Sangamo’s zinc finger protein gene-engineered chimeric antigen receptor regulatory T cell technology.

In April, Kymab (Cambridge UK) won the latest skirmish in its ongoing legal battle with Regeneron regarding patents protecting their rival antibody-producing technologies; and in June the UK Supreme Court struck down two of Regeneron patents, overturning an appellate court decision that held in favor of Regeneron and against Kymab, a spinout of Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute (Cambridge UK). 

University of Southampton spinout VivoPlex Group (Oxford), which is transforming fertility treatment with precision medicine, received MHRA regulatory approvals required to initiate the first clinical feasibility study of its wireless battery-free uterine sensor system.

Digital health firms Inhealthcare (Harrogate) and Weldmar Hospicecare (Dorchester) are partnering to launch a new digital health service for community nurses in the palliative care sector to remotely monitor the wellbeing of patients living in the community and prioritise contact with those who need the most urgent care.

Medical device developer Medovate (Cambridge UK) has concluded agreements with three US-based companies to act as the exclusive distributors for its FDA approved SAFIRA (SAFer Injection for Regional Anaesthesia) innovation across the US.

The FDA has accepted Autolus Therapeutics’ (London) IND application for AUTO1, its lead CAR T product candidate for the treatment of adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, allowing initiation of the US sites in the company’s first pivotal study, AUTO1-AL1; the clinical trial application was approved by the MHRA in January 2020 and the first site opened in the UK in March.

Scientists from Northumbria University have developed a new optical sensing technology which can light up areas of an object or material by creating microscopic wrinkles and folds within its surface which could have practical applications for flexible wearable devices, electronics, and in 3D printing.

Summit Therapeutics (Oxford) appointed its executive chairman and controlling shareholder, biotech billionaire Bob Duggan, as its new chief executive, after having been appointed executive chairman back in February, replacing outgoing CEO Glyn Edwards.

A phase III trial for AstraZeneca’s lung cancer drug Tagrisso (osimertinib) will be unblinded early after strong results following an Independent Data Monitoring Committee’s recommendation which determined that the drug showed “overwhelming efficacy” in patients with Stage IB, II and IIIA epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated non-small cell lung cancer with complete tumour resection.

Partners Merck and AstraZeneca received FDA approval for selumitinib, commercially known as Koselugo, to treat inoperable tumors in children two years and older with the rare neurological disorder neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

The board of directors of Circassia (Oxford) has decided it is in the best interests of the company to terminate the 2017 development and commercialization agreement with AstraZeneca for the US commercial rights to two inhaled COPD drugs Tudorza (aclidinium bromide) and Duaklir (formoterol fumarate dihydrate/aclidinium bromide.

Following its strategy of collaborating with pharma and biotech companies to use its exosome technology as a novel delivery vehicle, ReNeuron (Wales) signed a research agreement with an unnamed major pharma company to explore the potential use of its proprietary exosomes to deliver novel therapeutics.

Arix (London) announced leadership changes to right-size the venture organisation’s cash runway and growth prospects given the current environment, appointing current NED Naseem Amin as Executive Chairman, while co-founder and Chairman Jonathan Peacock and NED Art Pappas will step down from the Board.

Horizon Discovery (Cambridge UK) has expanded its technology capability with a first-to-market coup which involves adding an arrayed CRISPR knockout screening service for primary human B cells to its cell-based screening services.

GlaxoSmithKline reported positive late-stage data showing the benefit of its biologic Nucala (mepolizumab) in patients with nasal polyps in patient requiring further surgeries for the condition.  

March 2020

Eli Lilly paid Sitryx (Oxford), which is focused on the regulation of cell metabolism, $50 million upfront for global rights to up to four autoimmune drugs and committed up to $820 million in development milestones for the chance to work with Sitryx on drugs that manipulate intracellular metabolic pathways.

AstraZenica’s diabetes treatment Farxiga has proven to be “overwhelmingly” effective at slowing chronic kidney disease ahead of the scheduled end of a drug trial, potentially opening a new area of treatment outside diabetes.

The FDA cleared AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi—in tandem with standard-of-care chemo—for use in previously untreated patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer.

Comparing the genetic architecture of depression as defined via minimal phenotyping to that of depression using full diagnostic criteria in the UK Biobank, an international team of researchers has shown that genome-wide association studies of major depressive disorder that are based on the increasingly popular method of minimal phenotyping could lead to biased views of the genetic architecture of MDD and could impede researchers’ ability to identify pathways specific to the disease.

Takeda struck a deal worth up to €803M with Evox Therapeutics (Oxford) to develop rare disease treatments delivered to cells via nanocapsules called exosomes.

AstraZeneca entered a global digital health partnership with Internet-of-Things provider BrightInsight to drive enhanced patient adherence and engagement across therapeutic areas, initially focusing on the chronic disease management space.

AstraZeneca plans to collaborate with Silence Therapeutics (London) to discover, develop and commercialise small interfering RNA therapeutics for the treatment of cardiovascular, renal, metabolic and respiratory diseases.

Vaccitech (Oxford) and the University of Oxford announced initial efficacy and safety data for ADVANCE, a Phase 2a study testing VTP-800, an immunotherapeutic product candidate in patients with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer, which demonstrated that VTP-800 is safe and showed an encouraging efficacy trend in patients with mCRPC.  

ViiV Healthcare’s (Brentford) monthly HIV injection, branded as Cabenuva and developed in collaboration with Janssen, gained first approval in Canada to suppress HIV in adults with stable and low levels of the virus in their blood. 

George Health (London) announced £27 million of new financing to accelerate the commercialisation of affordable drug treatments and technologies for some of the world’s biggest killers, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, and Type II diabetes.

NICE has appointed Professor Gillian Leng, NICE’s deputy CEO since 2007, to replace Andrew Dillon as its new chief executive, completing its top leadership search after new chair Sharmila Nebhrajani was confirmed.

Oxford Biomedica (Oxford) signed a new Licence and Clinical Supply Agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Juno Therapeutics to use Oxford Biomedica’s LentiVector platform for its application in CAR-T and TCR-T programmes in oncology and other indications for $10 million upfront, potentially up to $86 million upon certain milestones, up to $131 million in sales-based milestone payments, and an undisclosed royalty on the net sales of products sold by Juno Therapeutics with using the LentiVector platform.

Inflammation in the brain may be more widely implicated in dementias than was previously thought, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge.

Researchers at the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre announced the commercial launch of the world’s first licensed artificial pancreas app, which works with a glucose monitor and insulin pump to automatically deliver insulin to people with type 1 diabetes. 

NICE has recommended the use of Teva Pharmaceutical’s Ajovy (fremanezumab) to prevent migraine in adults for chronic migraine patients who did not experience a response to a minimum of three preventive medications.

Researchers at the University of Bristol pioneered the use of VR to design new drugs by ‘stepping inside’ proteins and manipulating them, and the drugs binding to them, in atomic detail, using interactive molecular dynamics simulations in VR.

By using machine learning to examine data from more than 4000 people older than 45 for loneliness, researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that different generations are equally lonely but for different reasons. 

A man from London has become the second person in the world to be cured of HIV, resulting not from the HIV drugs he took until 30 months ago, but from a stem-cell treatment he received for a cancer he also had, which University of Cambridge researchers believe represents HIV cure with almost certainty.  

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is preparing to scrap its old paper records and replace them with a new digital system that aims to improve efficiency in managing more than three million patient records, involving more than 17,000 staff who treat over 1.6 million patients each year across seven hospitals and 175 medical facilities.

Research conducted by Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust indicates that new hepatitis C infections have dropped almost 70% in HIV-positive men in London since 2015, which coincides with wider prescribing of hepatitis C virus therapies via the NHS England direct-acting antivirals treatment programme and a reduction in time to treatment of acute HCV cases, largely driven by clinical trial availability.

Researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University Belfast have developed a new antimicrobial coating which can be applied to urinary catheters to significantly reduce pain and lower the risk of infection for its users.

GlaxoSmithKline boss Emma Walmsley was handed a £2.5million pay rise after a bumper year of sales at the drugs giant.

Abcam (Cambridge UK) acquired the entire issued share capital of Marker Gene Technologies, thus gaining additional proprietary assay development technologies and labelling capabilities.

A new coating that activates in low intensity light to kill bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli has been developed by a University College London-led team of researchers which could be used to coat phone screens, keyboards, and the inside of catheters and breathing tubes.

AstraZeneca completed its previously-communicated hypertension medicine divestment, following agreement with Atnahs Pharma (Essex) to divest its global commercial rights to Inderal (propranolol), Tenormin (atenolol, Tenoretic (atenolol, chlorthalidone fixed-dose combination), Zestril (lisinopril) and Zestoretic (lisinopril, hydrochlorothiazide fixed-dose combination).

The forecast cost of AstraZeneca’s new headquarters in Cambridge UK has ballooned to £1 billion, more than three times the original target, reportedly due to the complexity of the build, construction cost inflation and other factors.

Randox Laboratories’ (Northern Ireland) multiplex assay for 10 sexually-transmitted infections has received CE marking; benefits of the cartridge-based test using the molecular point-of-care Vivalytic system include the ability to detect multiple STIs, including co-infections, from one patient sample; a full molecular workflow; and small size.

Immunocore (Oxford), which specializes in redirecting and activating T-cells, raised €117M to develop biologic drugs for cancer based on T-cell receptor engineering and to develop biologic drugs for cancer based on T-cell receptor (TCR) engineering.

February 2020

GlaxoSmithKline is rekindling efforts to sell part of its antibiotics business, amid pruning its portfolio to focus more on areas such as cancer.

A new, free, lab-in-your-phone game from the University of Cambridge – “part Sims, part Tamagotchi” – lets players inhabit a stem cell researcher as they rise through the ranks: growing cells, scientific collaborations, and reputation.

Mereo BioPharma (London) has successfully completed a Type B End-of-Phase 2 meeting with the FDA to discuss the development of setrusumab, an anti-sclerostin antibody, for the treatment of children and adolescents with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic rare disorder characterized by reduced bone mass and fragile bones that break easily.

Acacia Pharma’s (Cambridge UK) efforts over time to bring its post-op nausea and vomiting drug Barhemsys (intravenous amisulpride) to market have ended happily with the company getting FDA approval for Barhemsys at its third attempt, following earlier rejections in October 2018 and May 2019.

SageTech Medical’s (Paignton/Devon) new technology being used during surgeries at Royal Cornwall Hospital captures the waste gas before it is released to the environment, then purifies it ready for recycling and reuse, aiming to save money and cut emissions.

Genomic data provided by participants in the Genomics England 100,000 Genomes Project (London) has helped Cancer Research UK researchers identify how a common type of gut bacteria could contribute to bowel cancer.

NuProbe (Oxford) has granted a worldwide license for its proprietary blocker displacement amplification technology to Oxford Nanopore Technologies (Oxford).

NICE has recommended Celgene’s Revlimid (lenalidomide) in combination with Roche’s MabThera (rituximab) for grade one to three variations of the disease.

A study of 132 biotech, pharma and medtech companies by executive search firm Liftstream (London) that looked at 867 directors in considering board diversity, found that only 13 had women CEOS (10%), women made up 15% of company board directors, just 2% of companies had appointed women to chair their board of directors, and only 7% of directors were of a racial or ethnic minority, with 70% having no racial diversity on their boards.

Bicycle Therapeutics (Cambridge UK) will collaborate with Roche’s Genentech to develop novel cancer immunotherapies and take them to market, with Genentech paying €28M upfront to Bicycle, but if discovery, regulatory and commercial milestones are met then the deal could be worth up to €1.6B.

Research on novel nanoelectronics devices led by the University of Southampton has enabled brain neurons and artificial neurons to communicate with each other, showing for the first time shown how three key emerging technologies can work together: brain-computer interfaces, artificial neural networks and advanced memory technologies.

Scientists at Aberystwyth University have succeeded in developing a food product using a by-product made in production of mycoprotein, the main ingredient in all Quorn products, which can be used to significantly reduce the salt content of pre-packaged meals and snacks.

Imperial College London researchers have invented a new health tracking sensor to detect vital signs like heart and breathing rates for pets and people that monitors vital signs through fur or up to four layers of clothing.

To free up cash for areas such as oncology, AstraZeneca has agreed to divest the rights to its GI med Movantik to Tel Aviv- and North Carolina-based RedHill Biopharma in a deal valued at $67.5 million in a move the acquirer is calling a transformative event for its business. 

The UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, whose mission is to lead world-class 21st century bioscience and support the bioeconomy, has produced a report—Creating Spinouts from Biotechnology—highlighting a few examples of spinout companies that exemplify how its investments in research and supports for translation are making a difference.

Cell-based therapeutics developer ReNeuron Group (Wales) announced positive long-term data from the ongoing Phase 1/2a clinical trial of its hRPC stem cell therapy candidate in retinitis pigmentosa and plans to expand the ongoing study. 

FDA has approved the first quadrivalent, adjuvanted influenza vaccine, Seqirus’ (Maidenhead) Fluad Quadrivalent to protect adults aged 65 years or older against seasonal influenza. 

Swift Biosciences has partnered with LGC Biosearch Technologies (Hoddesdon) to incorporate Swift’s targeted sequencing technology into LGC’s kits and service offerings for the worldwide ag-bio market.

Private equity-backed generic drugmaker Stada STAGn.D has agreed to pay more than €300 million for 15 consumer healthcare products from GlaxoSmithKline to further strengthen its prescription-free drugs business in Europe.

NICE has recommended peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy, Biogen Idec) as a treatment option for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis for routine use within NHS England.

DNA methylation at certain sites of the genome influence lung function, an effect that may occur through its effect on cigarette smoking, a new University of Bristol study has found.

Two NHS hospitals, the Western General Hospital (Edinburgh) and Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Trust (Buckinghamshire), have now used the Versius surgical robotic system from CMR Surgical (Cambridge UK), in procedures involving colorectal surgeries, representing a major milestone in the company’s development.)

NICE recommended the sacral neuromodulation system, the only SNM device approved for full-body MRI scans without needing the device explanted, developed by Axonics Modulation Technologies for treating overactive bladder in its latest draft guidance.

Alderley Park (Cheshire) has announced the opening of Glasshouse, its workspace for tech enterprises/digital businesses looking to work collaboratively in drug discovery.

Futura Medical (Guildford) will seek EU approval for its MED3000 topical treatment, which uses a unique evaporative mode of action, stimulating nerve endings to cause an erection, for erectile dysfunction in Europe, using a medical devices pathway.

Blood serum levels of vitamin D appear to be influenced by genetic variants at dozens of sites in the genome, according to a new genome-wide association study by a team from Canada and the UK (Kings College) that analyzed array-based genotyping profiles for nearly 401,500 UK Biobank participants, searching for SNPs linked to their documented serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

Researchers at Oxford University have used a new technique to identify six previously unknown cell types in human Fallopian tubes, paving the way for faster identification and treatment of ovarian cancer. 

As it opened a new headquarters in London, Novartis has announced the beginnings of a major cardiovascular outcomes of its of inclisiran trial in the UK that was part of a deal signed by The Medicines Company and NHS officials ahead of its $9.7 billion merger with Novartis at the end of last year, as it opened a new headquarters in London.
BELS Ed Note:  Several top executives at The Medicines Company are expats, including the current CEO Mark Timney, along with innovator/creative disruptor/Founder and prior long-term CEO Clive Meanwell, who is also a BELS Founding Member & Springboard Contributor.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium announced the first two approvals under the SMC’s new ultra-orphan pathway: Voretigene neparvovec (Luxturna, Novartis), a one-off treatment for inherited retinal dystrophy caused by a mutation in the RPE65 gene; and Burosumab (Crysvita, Kyowa Kirin), a treatment for X-linked hypophosphataemia that has been shown to correct bone defects in children, which could provide lifelong benefits.

UK Research and Innovation announced the launch of a new “Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator”, a new national research initiative tasked with unlocking the potential of precision genetic medicines and anchoring the nucleic acid therapy industry, intending to capitalise on the UK’s industrial and academic research base to accelerate development of novel therapies.

Oxford University scientists have discovered the molecular ‘first responder’ which detects disturbances in the flow of blood through the arteries, and responds by encouraging the formation of plaques which can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke and even death. 

Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Simon Fraser University in Canada and Imperial College London combined genomic data, models of bacterial evolution and predictive modelling to identify how vaccines could be optimised for specific age groups, geographic regions and communities of bacteria and found that rates of disease caused by a common bacterium could be substantially reduced by changing our approach to vaccination.

UK Research and Innovation is to lead a new Global Talent Visa scheme for researchers and specialists via which top scientists and researchers are to be given fast-tracked entry to the UK with no cap on who can benefit.

Building on successful delivery of the 100,000 Genomes Project, Genomics England (London) and Illumina agreed to deliver up to 300,000 whole genome equivalents over the next five years, with an option to increase to 500,000, with samples to be provided through the NHS Genomic Medicine Service (whose aim is to provide consistent and equitable access to genetic and genomic testing across England).

January 2020

Researchers at the University of Oxford have shown for the first time that an immune cell is involved in creating the scar that repairs the heart after damage as they try to unlock the secrets of how zebrafish can mend their own heart muscle if it becomes injured.

2019 was the British biotech industry’s third-best year on record with £1.3 billion raised by UK-based biotech companies, £679 million was raised in VC, £64 million raised in IPOs, and £596 million in all other public financings.

The NHS, the richest organization in the world when it comes to data, plans to harness the potential of its health data with seven new national data hubs to help break down data silos and embrace real world evidence.

Scientists at Oxitec (Oxford) have conducted the first successful field release experiment of a genetically modified moth that could save crops, having created a new type of diamondback moth, a species often referred to as the “cabbage moth” due to their gluttonous and uninvited consumption of a number of crops such as broccoli and cabbage, that has been genetically modified to help control population numbers in any given field

AstraZeneca unveiled positive results on its stroke trial testing its blood-thinning clot-fighter Brilinta, announced a new study set to expand its use by taking it in conjunction with aspirin to reduce the risk of stroke and death, welcomed its experimental IL-23 inhibitor brazikumab back from Allergan, shared upbeat gastric cancer data on its HER2-positive oncology therapy it is collaborating on with Daiichi Sankyo.

A new study from researchers in China and at the University of Cambridge confirms that Bumetanide – a prescription drug for oedema (the build-up of fluid in the body) – improves some of the symptoms in young children with autism spectrum disorders and has no significant side effects.

GlaxoSmithKline has licensed a tuberculosis vaccine to the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, setting the stage to build on recent phase 2b data and make the vaccine available in low-income countries where TB is prevalent.

The NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre has launched a six-month clinical trial involving 1,000 newborns from intensive care units at St Mary’s Hospital Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust for a point-of-care PCR-based pharmacogenetic test to predict hearing loss from antibiotic treatment in newborns using a cheek swab and delivers a result in less than 30 minutes. 

Tusker Medical was picked up by Smith & Nephew (London) just weeks after it received FDA approval for its Tusker Tula in-office system for placing eardrum tubes and treating ear infections designed to be used within a physician’s office, with a local anesthetic, as the child sits up.

An innovative university research commercialisation initiative led by Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford is set to create nearly 4,000 jobs across the UK in artificial intelligence, healthy ageing, alternative energy, and quantum technologies; help the Oxford Creative Destruction Lab bring bright entrepreneurial minds together and draw on North American venture capital expertise to propel world-leading ideas from lab to market; support 225 high-potential early-stage companies from all over the UK; raise £225m in capital, and generate £900m in equity value. 

Antibiotics player Summit Therapeutics (Oxford) received an $8.8 million cash infusion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Announced that David Roblin resigned as Chief Operating Officer, Chief Medical Officer and President of R&D.

Scientists at Cardiff University (Wales) have found a skeleton key-like TCR on the keychain of the mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cell, which, unlike ordinary anticancer T cells that fumble over molecular locks involving the human leukocyte antigen system, have a TCR that works with another cell surface display system, the monomorphic MHC class I-related protein, MR1, raising the possibility of developing pan-cancer, pan-population cancer immunotherapies.

An Oxford University study has found that gut bacteria is linked to personality, as sociable people have a higher abundance of certain types of gut bacteria and more diverse bacteria.

Scientists at the University of Leeds studied four types of virus transmitted by mosquitoes and found that applying a cream used to treat warts and skin cancer within an hour of a bite caused a rapid activation of the skin’s immune response that fights any potential viral threat such as Zika and dengue.

Autolus Therapeutics (London) announced the pricing of its public offering price of $11.00 per ADS, for total gross proceeds of approximately $80.0 million.

AstraZeneca has committed to contributing its fair share to stop climate change, unveiling its Ambition Zero Carbon program, which aims to achieve zero carbon emissions from its global operations by 2025 by investing up to $1 billion, part of which will go toward developing next-generation respiratory inhalers that have almost no negative impact on global warming.

A new University of Cambridge study using bumblebees has found that the sweetest nectar is not necessarily the best as too much sugar slows down the bees; the results will inform breeding efforts to make crops more attractive to pollinators, boosting yields to feed our growing global population.

According to research at the University of Cambridge researchers, a new type of scan called carbon-13 hyperpolarised imaging that involves magnetising molecules allows doctors to see in real-time which regions of a breast tumour are active.

PredictImmune (Cambridge UK) signed an agreement with Cambridge Clinical Laboratories for promotion and distribution in the UK, Ireland, the Middle East, and the Balkans of its PredictSure IBD test, a PCR-based test designed to analyze the expression of 17 genes in whole blood in order to differentiate mild and aggressive forms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and to guide treatment options (Cambridge UK). 

A glaucoma polygenic risk score to help identify people at risk at an earlier age emerged from a study by an international team of researchers who characterized the optic nerves from 67,040 UK Biobank participants, as optic nerve degeneration is a sign of glaucoma, and used those results and intraocular pressure data, another sign of glaucoma, from 103,914 UK Biobank participants to conduct two genome wide association studies. 

PhoreMost (Cambridge UK) has begun a collaboration with Japan’s Otsuka working on several gene therapy projects using PhoreMost’s next-generation phenotypic screening platform Siteseeker to identify novel targets for Otsuka’s therapeutics discovery programmes.

A rapid test to diagnose severe illnesses, using personalised gene signatures, is being developed by an international consortium of scientists led by Imperial College London with €22.5m EU funding to speed up diagnosis times for many serious conditions including pneumonia, tuberculosis, sepsis, meningitis, and inflammatory and immune diseases, to under two hours.

The UK and NHS are providing the right environment and infrastructure to allow innovative cell and gene therapies to reach patients, as evidenced by the fact that over 12% of global cell and gene therapy clinical trials are conducted in the UK, 77% of which are sponsored by international companies.

Up to 30,000 lives could be saved over the next decade thanks to a pioneering collaboration between Novartis, NHS England, the NIHR, and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University to tackle heart disease using inclisiran which trials indicate can halve bad cholesterol in just two weeks; the collaboration represents an innovative approach to tackling major public health issues and positions the UK as a world-leading destination to develop revolutionary medicines. 

Astellas is to work with Adaptimmune Therapeutics (Oxford) to develop allogeneic ‘off-the-shelf’ T-cell therapies for cancer. 

Horizon Discovery (Cambridge UK) has exercised its option to exclusively license a novel base editing technology, which modifies genes by creating single point mutations in DNA without making double-stranded breaks, from Rutgers University for use in therapeutic, diagnostic, and service applications. 

Horizon Discovery (Cambridge UK) has signed a collaboration and license agreement with Mammoth Biosciences to develop a new generation of genetically engineered CHO cells for the production of biotherapeutics such as therapeutic antibodies. 

England’s NHS could prevent hundreds of strokes of unknown cause with Medtronic’s new implantable AF monitor that transmits data to doctors remotely, which is recommended for funding following draft guidance from NICE.

Significant scientific progress at Sosei Heptares’ (Cambridge UK) spin-off companies Orexia (London) and Inexia (London), targeting neurological diseases, has triggered the next tranche of funding from venture capital firm Medicxi (London) under its €40 million commitment. 

GlaxoSmithKilne’s HIV company ViiV Healthcare (Brentford) has submitted a marketing authorisation application to the European Medicines Agency seeking approval of fostemsavir, an investigational, first-in-class attachment inhibitor, seeking indication for the treatment of HIV-1 infection when used in combination with other antiretrovirals. 

Aberdeen University spin-out Elasmogen (Aberdeen) has secured follow-on equity investment from Deepbridge Capital (Chester) totaling £2 million, taking the company’s total investment in Elasmogen to £3.15 million; the funding will be used to accelerate the development of the company’s next generation biologics for site-specific delivery and treatment of diseases refractory to existing drug therapies.

Cardiff University (Wales) researchers have identified new mutations in a gene that provides novel insights into the biological causes of schizophrenia, having looked specifically at previously identified high-risk genes that can predispose people to neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and developmental delay. 

A new collaboration between Bayer and Exscientia (Oxford) is set to accelerate the discovery of small molecule drugs, focused on cardiovascular disease and oncology, using artificial intelligence to further the development of drug candidates for three of Bayer’s projects in the areas of cardiovascular disease and oncology. 

Emergex Vaccines (Abingdon), which specializes in the development of ‘set-point’ vaccines, which the company describes as vaccines that convert potentially lethal infections into mild infections that stimulate the body to become immune to the disease in question, has raised over €9.9M in a Series A funding round, which will allow it to progress the development of vaccines against diseases such as dengue, influenza, and Ebola to phase I clinical trials. 

 Redx Pharma (Cheshire) announced the nomination of RXC007, a novel and selective Rho Associated Coiled-Coil Containing Protein Kinase 2 (ROCK2) inhibitor, an enzyme which sits at a nodal point in cell signalling pathways believed to be central to fibrosis, as its next drug development candidate for the treatment of fibrosis. 

Researchers from the UK (University College London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital Bart’s Heart Centre), Australia, the US, and elsewhere brought together data for almost 1 million individuals with or without heart failure, focusing in on 12 variants at 11 loci that coincided with the heart failure cases, and unearthed a dozen variants with apparent ties to heart failure risk, including SNPs at 10 sites not linked to the condition in the past

AstraZeneca has forged a relationship with RNA activation therapeutics pioneer MiNA Therapeutics (London) to tackle metabolic diseases with small activating RNA.

As the race — led by Amgen — to subdue the notorious KRAS oncogene heats up in the early clinical space, Merck is betting on a slate of preclinical small molecule candidates from Japan’s Taiho and Astex (Cambridge UK) – the latter is a subsidiary of Otsuka Pharmaceutical – that target, among several others, KRAS. 

GlaxoSmithKline has penned a deal worth up to €955m with Bavarian Nordic, to offload its travel vaccines Rabipur, indicated for prevention of rabies, and Encepur, a preventative treatment for tick-borne encephalitis. 

The NHS is promising a “genomic revolution,” with rare child diseases diagnosed in days, with far more accuracy than has previously possible, with up to 700 babies and children a year will be offered a new form of DNA test, which can rapidly identify mutations in critically ill patients, doubling the chance of an accurate diagnosis and ensure swift treatment. 

Using programs trained on 2D and 3D mammography images from nearly 30,000 women in the US and the UK, Google’s DeepMind (London) team showed that it can outperform trained radiologists in spotting cases of breast cancer, and that its artificial intelligence is capable of providing an independent, automated and immediate second opinion.