Is this start-up a game changer for drug discovery?  

Jane Theaker, Kinomica explains why she was so impressed with the preclinical datasets predicting for drug response that the company could produce, she decided to join as CEO.

Kinomica is a spin out offering phosphoproteomic analyses to the pharmaceutical industry. Theaker has R&D expertise in novel diagnostic technologies. Her experience includes genomics with AstraZeneca and the co-invention of a new quantitative PCR technology. In 2009 she joined Qiagen where her teams developed diagnostic kits to FDA standards. After a stint at LGC Genomics as VP of R&D she started DaTA-GC solutions, a precision medicine consultancy, with a former colleague. She joined Kinomica in 2019 after being impressed with the business and its technology.

LR: Tell us about Kinomica and how the company was set up.

JT: Kinomica – which is head-quartered in the life science and innovation campus at Alderley Park – was spun out of Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in 2016 to build on the work of Dr. Pedro Cutillas and colleagues, but only started trading in July 2019.

It’s a proteomic-data science and diagnostics company specialising in cell signalling. We offer KScan, a suite of advanced proprietary bioinformatics and phosphoproteomics analytical methods that can provide direct activity measurements of multiple endogenous kinases and comprehensive cell signalling network coverage.

KScan consists of three elements:  patented data matrix of kinase substrate relationships, a set of patented algorithms to determine which kinases are enriched in a tissue, and a patented method to create a kinase ranking from the aforementioned database and algorithms. KScan is a bioinformatics pipeline which uses LC-MS-MS datasets to create a kinase activity measurements and rankings.

We offer KScan for improved monitoring of drug molecular efficacy and response (to fully elucidate mode of action and mechanisms of resistance) and the discovery of predictive biomarkers for patient selection and stratification in clinical trials. We also offer advanced proteomics services, including drug target identification, the assessment of molecular target turnover and target engagement.

Kinomica’s approach to measuring the phosphorylation signature of proteins, rather than using gene expression, provides a direct snapshot of protein and cell-signalling activity. We have preclinical proof-of-concept data to demonstrate that our game-changing biomarkers predict drug response more accurately than current state-of-the-art gene sequencing.

Unlike existing technologies and diagnostic tests, KScan uses proprietary computational algorithms to interrogate the phosphoproteome and identify clinically precise biomarkers for more accurate drug monitoring and efficacy predictions, which could lead to significant improvements in patient stratification.

Our focus is on bringing disruptive technologies to patients in need. Patients are at the core of what we do, why and how we do it. Our aim is to become a world-leader in cell-signalling bioinformatics for precision medicine research and diagnostics.

 LR: Where is the business now and what are you trying to achieve?

JT: The business had a fantastically successful first trading year, securing contracts to perform KScan analysis for bluechip pharma. Customers realise how powerful our drug response insights are compared with one-at-a- time Western blots, IHC or ELISA analyses.

Our interdisciplinary phosphoproteomics and advanced bioinformatics platform informs and guides therapeutic R&D, as well as diagnostic decision-making. The integration of our proteomic technologies into R&D and diagnostic toolboxes will improve the treatments and outcomes of patients affected by serious diseases.

We want to further commercialise our offering and we have some exciting plans for growth for 2021, 2022 and 2023. We have a fantastic team around us both at board level, externally and operationally and the most wonderful customers with whom we love working.

LR: Last year you received investment from BioCity – what did this mean for the business?

JT: We had some fantastic support from the Alderley Park accelerator, led by Ned Wakeman, and this gave us the links to Biocity and the support network we needed to succeed and thrive. The Biocity plus our angel seed investments were exceedingly important, allowing us to start the company and to draw down on Innovate UK Investment Accelerator matched funding to support the validation of KScan in a clinical study of acute myeloid leukaemia patients. This pivotal study exemplifies the power of KScan over current technologies, and involves collaborations with world-leading cancer treatment centres and therapeutics developers.

The Biocity investment also inadvertently gave us a women-led company and board and a wonderful company culture, (80% of our board members are female). Our thinking is that the more diverse our teams and the more we can incorporate a learning culture into our working practises, then the more resilient our teams and project plans will be.

LR: You describe your technology as ‘NGS for proteomics’ – what does this mean and how is it significant to drug discovery and development?

JT: Until now, analysis of cell signalling networks and pathways has relied on laboriously interrogating single ‘activated’ phosphoprotein targets, one at a time, using an antibody based method such as Western-blot or just a few of them using protein arrays. The researcher would hope to build up a picture of how tissues were responding to a drug or predicting how they might respond. Our KScan technology revolutionises this analysis by allowing simultaneous analysis of all the activated proteins in one simple analysis and also allows the relevant biological insights to be derived. This is why conceptually it is a bit like NGS: you are analysing the whole phospho-proteome not just a single target.; the insights generated are much deeper and interconnected; and Kinomica’s technology achieves this far more rapidly than would be possible using routine methods.

LR: What opportunities does your work create for the wider drug development community – how can they use it to create advantage?

JT: KScan technology offers some massive advantages in drug discovery and development. For example, having complete cell signalling network coverage allows you to elucidate resistance mechanisms to drugs and to look at off-target toxicological effects. We can also identify new drug targets in a hypothesis-free manner in diseased tissues by comparing to control tissue. The technology can be used to repurpose an existing drug to a better disease target, extending patent life cycles and giving a new life to generics. KScan can be used to really understand the mode of action of your drug and whether you have target specificity or there is a broader targeting of many proteins in the network.

Where our technology really comes into its own is in patient stratification for clinical trials. Our pre-clinical work has shown that there is an almost perfect correlation between the activity levels of KScan identified targets and the predicted and observed drug responses. This is hugely powerful when pharmaceutical companies are trying to predict who to enrol in a clinical trial to demonstrate greatest drug efficacy. The more efficacious the drug, the more valuable the drug asset. Our technology can be used to predict which patients are going to respond to the drug before it has been given, helping doctors decide which personalised medicines to give to patients.

LR: How has COVID-19 affected the work you are doing?

JT: COVID certainly affected our business! Our laboratories which we rented at Bart’s Cancer Institute were closed down from March 18th until 1 July 2020. This meant we had no access to sample preparation facilities or mass spectrometers. As a result, plans to expand were rapidly brought forward, and we set up a laboratory for sample preparation and tissue culture at Alderley Park, where we are headquartered. This enabled us to progress our commercial and Innovate UK projects while sourcing mass spectrometry facilities which we eventually did at Oxford University.

In spite of the COVID setbacks, orders have continued and we have also secured some substantial contracts. In addition, we have commenced some new COVID-focussed KScan projects with the Stoller Biomarker Discovery centre in Manchester looking at COVID positive and negative blood samples and with an academic lung consultant looking at disease processes in the post-COVID lung.

LR: Where do you see the main opportunities in precision medicine in the next five years?

JT: There are two main opportunities I see. The first one is by taking a so-called multi-omic approach to diagnostic testing. By using all the data available, genomic, phospho-proteomic, proteomic, and other datasets such as activity levels, or blood pressure we will be able to personalise drugs to patients. The second is in the use of AI. It is great at spotting patterns in complex datasets. Putting AI and complex multi-omic datasets together will allow us to exquisitely tailor drugs to patients to create novel diagnostic modalities. This will be a win-win-win combination for patients, healthcare payers and pharmaceutical companies alike.

Volume 22, Issue 1 – Winter 2021

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