Global start-ups: where is the innovation?


DDW takes a look at some key global activity taking place around the world for drug discovery and life sciences start-ups.

UK Budget a ‘shot in the arm’ for oncology start-ups

Before the UK announced its Spring Budget, UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) called on the Treasury to provide additional support through the R&D tax relief scheme to R&D intensive SMEs.

The BIA stated that these companies are most at risk from the R&D tax relief rate cut which was announced during the Autumn Statement last year, due to their high R&D investment and lack of other revenue sources. The Autumn Statement in 2022 saw the UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt cut the SME R&D tax relief rate, meaning SMEs would only receive half the cash co-investment from government they are expecting from April 2023 onwards, creating deficits in their future budgets.

With the investment landscape for biotech remaining rocky, many pre-revenue companies are at risk from these cuts and may have to cancel investment plans, cut headcount and risk bankruptcy.

The BIA raised concern in a letter signed by over 300 CEOs of member companies addressed to the Chancellor. Speaking about the organisation’s concerns, Steve Bates OBE, CEO of BIA, said: “R&D intensive start-ups and scale-ups are the lifeblood of an innovation-led economy, which the Chancellor has rightly said he wants to create. In life sciences these innovative companies are creating the medicines and technologies that will change and improve our lives in years to come, and laying the foundations for the industries of the future.”

Following this the Spring Budget did include positive moves from the Treasury, particularly the announcement that there will be a new enhanced R&D tax relief rate for the UK’s most innovative businesses, which could be beneficial to SMEs in the country.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that are investing over 40% of their total operating costs in R&D and not yet making a profit will receive a cash payment of 27p for each £1 they have invested in R&D. Other loss-making SMEs will receive a new lower relief rate of approximately 18p, which was announced at the Autumn Statement in November 2022.

The government also announced plans for 12 low-tax ‘investment zones’ across the UK, with the aim of creating new business clusters focused around universities and research institutions. Each zone will receive £80m of support over five years.

Certain companies have questioned what this means for current innovation hubs around the UK, but the response was largely positive.

Cancer Research Horizons described the budget announcement as “a shot in the arm” to oncology start-ups and growing companies across the UK at a time of tough economic challenges. “Spin-out companies play a vital role in translating Cancer Research UK-funded research from the lab into life-saving treatments. Today’s decision by the Chancellor is a vote of confidence in the UK’s outstanding life sciences start-up community, creating the opportunities needed to develop new tests, medicines and advances in healthcare for cancer patients,” stated Tony Hickson, Chief Business Officer of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and Cancer Research Horizons.

Copenhagen: BII boosts drug discovery start-ups

Five drug discovery companies have entered the BioInnovation Institute’s (BII) Venture Lab acceleration programme for early-stage companies as part of a cohort of 10 new members.

The 12-month Venture Lab programme is designed to support start-up companies with business acceleration, scientific, and team development, and provides a founder-friendly convertible loan of €500,000 plus access to labs and offices at the BII in Copenhagen.

In becoming a part of the Venture Lab programme, the early-stage companies also get an exclusive opportunity to apply for €1.4 million in follow-up funding through BII’s Venture House program.

The new life science companies BII has accepted into theVentureLabacceleration program are:

  • AIDA Oncology which works to select the best cancer drug for each patient, using the RNA expression pattern of their tumour and machine learning.
  • Alba Health which is on a mission to reduce chronic disease risks from childhood, leveraging data science and the latest microbiome science.
  • Dawn Bio which is a drug discovery platform based on human embryo models for drug development for women’s reproductive health.
  • METSYSTEM offers a technology designed to predict cancer metastasis and determine the optimal chemotherapy to treat it preventively.
  • Amplify Therapeutics boasts disease-modifying therapies for Gaucher disease and genetic subgroups of Parkinson’s disease.

Supporting innovative science

Bobby Soni, Chief Business OfficeratBioInnovationInstitute, said: “BII’s mission is to create products for the welfare of people and society, and we believe that BII’s support of the innovative science in this Venture Lab cohort will deliver on that promise.”

Each start-up will be supported in undertaking the necessary steps to reach initial proof-of-concept, to make a business plan and to set up a team. Assisted by a dedicated scientific advisor, a leadership coach and a BII business development expert, the new ventures will be guided in developing a detailed milestone plan and will be assisted in overcoming the challenges of growing a business.

Since its inception in 2018, BII has supported 80 start-ups and projects with €65 million alongside the venture capital, industry and business expertise it provides to help them accelerate to the next level. In total, BII’s start-ups have raised over €333 million in external funding from both local and international investors. Recent company successes include Adcendo, Stipe Therapeutics, Twelve Bio, Octarine Bio, and Cirqle Biomedical.

Five Alarm Bio raises £500k in investment

 Anti-ageing start-up Five Alarm Bio (FAB) has completed a seed investment round, raising over £500K ($605K). The funding will drive proprietary research into novel compounds that extend healthy lifespan of cells and tissues, with therapeutic potential across a broad range of age-related diseases.

Investors include Cambridge Angels, Meltwind, o2h Ventures, and SyndicateRoom, as well as other Angel investors, with support from KPMG Acceleris.

This funding follows a £360K ($435K) Biomedical Catalyst grant from Innovate UK, awarded to FAB early in 2022 to develop its technology as a treatment for chronic wounds.

Based on advances in understanding of how age- associated chemical damage accumulates in cells and tissues, FAB is developing an innovative small molecule approach aimed at boosting our defences as we age, to ultimately extend the healthy lifespan of our bodies.

Age-related diseases such as arthritis, sarcopenia and Alzheimer’s Disease are among the leading causes of disability and mortality across the developed world, and a major burden on health funding. Globally, the anti-ageing therapeutics market is expected to reach $2.01 billion by 2030.

Dr Janette Thomas, CEO of Five Alarm Bio, said: “Whilst life expectancy has increased over recent years, our healthy lifespan has not kept up. Anti-ageing science therefore has huge value. Here at FAB our proprietary approach aims to overcome this fundamental challenge to human health as we work to discover and develop new drugs for age-associated diseases.” Founded in 2016 by three experienced entrepreneurs, FAB is currently based on the Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge.

DDW Volume 24 – Issue 2, Spring 2023

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