Cambridge has a large biotech scene that is starting to rival that of its US namesake. Here are the top 15 biotech companies in Cambridge you should know about.
Cambridge is a small but vibrant city that is well known for its university and for being a center of excellence for life sciences and health-related research. The Wellcome Sanger Institute, where part of the human genome was sequenced, is on its outskirts, next to the European Bioinformatics Institute. There are also a number of world-class research institutes in the vicinity including Addenbrookes Hospital.
While the city has historically had more of an academic research focus, in recent years it has become a major biotech and pharma hub. Antibody development is one of the strengths of the city thanks to the legacy of Cambridge Antibody Technologies, which pioneered the technology of phage display and developed Humira, the world’s best-selling drug. Newer therapeutic areas are also represented, such as RNA silencing, cell and gene therapies, and the microbiome, as well as companies using artificial intelligence to improve drug discovery.
As there are so many excellent companies in the region, it was hard to choose only 15. After consultation with local experts, here are our choices in no particular order.
Kymab is one of several Cambridge companies focusing on antibody therapies, such as F-Star Therapeutics or Crescendo Biologics. The company was spun out of the Wellcome Sanger Institute to rapidly develop bispecific antibodies using genetically engineered mice.
Kymab has eight products in its pipeline targeting cancer, hemophilia, and several immune disorders. Its most advanced candidate is a treatment for atopic dermatitis that recently reported successful results from a phase II trial.
The company has raised almost €200M to date. It has an ongoing patent dispute with US biotech Regeneron; in June, the US patent office rejected a fifth request by Regeneron to invalidate Kymab’s US patents and the UK Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kymab.
Founded by Nobel prize winner and Cambridge professor Sir Greg Winter, Bicycle Therapeutics develops a new class of drugs called bicyclic peptides, which blend the ability of traditional antibodies to hunt normally undruggable proteins with the manufacturing ease of small molecule drugs.
Its technology caught the eye of AstraZeneca, which struck a €1B deal to tackle respiratory, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases in 2016. Two years later, the company’s first peptide began clinical trials to treat solid tumors that express high levels of a protein called metalloproteinase.
In 2019, the company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in a downsized IPO of €50M. This year the company made a deal with Genentech worth up to €1.6B to develop novel cancer immunotherapies.
Mission Therapeutics is developing small molecule drugs to inhibit deubiquitylating enzymes, which regulate the degradation of proteins within the cells. These enzymes are involved in a wide range of conditions including mitochondrial diseases, kidney injury, pulmonary fibrosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
Mission Therapeutics raised €75M in one of the biggest rounds of European biotech back in 2016. This year, it raised an additional €12.4M and struck a drug development deal with Pfizer. The company currently has four programs in its pipeline, four of them in preclinical development.
Another spin-off from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Congenica uses genomic analysis to assist in the diagnosis of rare diseases. The company has partnerships with many UK hospitals for genomic diagnostics and works with UCB in Belgium in drug discovery programs.
Congenica has developed a clinical genome analysis platform called Sapientia that uses machine learning to produce diagnostic reports from genomic data collected in hospitals and other research institutions around the world.
Last year, the company raised funds to support the use of its rare disease diagnostics platform by the newly formed NHS Genomic Medicine Service. This was topped up with a €41M Series C last month to drive the company’s international expansion.
Artios Pharma is developing drugs that inhibit an enzyme called DNA polymerase theta, which plays a role in multiple DNA repair processes. The levels of this enzyme are typically higher in several types of tumors, including breast, ovarian and lung cancers, than in healthy tissue.
The company had an oversubscribed €73M Series B round in 2018. Earlier this month, the company signed a €5.7B megadeal with Merck KGaA to develop DNA damage repair cancer therapeutics. Its first clinical trial in humans is planned for 2021.
Healx uses artificial intelligence to analyze extensive medical research data with the goal of repurposing existing drugs to treat rare diseases. The company’s most advanced program, a drug repurposed for fragile X syndrome, took less than two years to reach clinical trials instead of the normal five-to-seven years this process usually takes.
The company raised a €50.8M Series B round in October 2019. Shortly after, Healx started the Rare Treatment Accelerator program, allowing patient advocacy groups a chance to work with the company to find new treatments for rare diseases.
Healx has a mission to advance 100 rare disease treatments towards the clinic by 2025. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has been using its technology to search for treatments for Covid-19.
Cyted is applying artificial intelligence to the development of diagnostics. The company is collaborating with Medtronic to develop an early detection esophageal cancer test. Medtronic’s technology is based on a device that can be swallowed like a pill, invented by one of Cyted founders before starting the company.
Cyted raised €9.6M in February this year and acquired Pathognomics, a provider of digital pathology and clinical diagnostic laboratory services that will allow the company to scale up and roll out its diagnostic services.
Storm Therapeutics was spun out of the University of Cambridge to treat cancer and other diseases using a technology to modulate RNA-modifying enzymes, such as RNA methyltransferase.
The company raised €34M in Series A funding in 2019. Its most advanced drug candidate is now ready to enter clinical trials as a treatment for leukemia.
There has been increasing interest in companies working in the RNA space since the first RNA interference therapy was approved in 2018 and the recent approval of the first Covid-19 vaccine using messenger RNA technology in the UK and Canada.
Cambridge Epigenetix was founded by Cambridge professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, who co-invented the technology behind next-generation sequencing now used by DNA sequencing giant Illumina.
Cambridge Epigenetix pioneered epigenetic tests for the early detection of cancer and other diseases. Its technology is able to reveal information about the activity of disease-related genes not available using genetic analysis alone. The company has raised approximately €50M to date.
Mogrify uses an algorithm to predict what chemicals are needed to convert any human cell type into another cell type.
The company raised a €14.5M Series A last year and signed a licensing agreement with genomic medicine company Sangamo earlier this year to help the US company scale up the production of off-the-shelf cell therapies for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
In October, Mogrify announced the launch of a platform that can model the epigenetic state of cells and provide important information on switches that can change cell biology.
Previously known as Elpis Biomed, Bit Bio was founded by neurosurgeon and cell therapy specialist Mark Kotter, who is also a Cambridge academic. The company is creating cell therapies through cellular reprogramming.
Bit Bio’s approach is to screen large datasets for ‘cocktails’ of proteins that are needed to turn stem cells into the desired cell type. The company then genetically engineers the stem cells so that they switch on the production of these proteins when given an antibiotic.
The company has so far raised €44.4M to support the development of this technology.
Evonetix is working on a fast, scalable, high fidelity approach to DNA synthesis. The company is currently developing a ‘DNA on a chip’ technology that will allow DNA to be made simultaneously at many different points on a silicon chip via electronic programming.
The company has so far raised approximately €36M. Earlier this year, Evonetix partnered with imec, a Dutch research and innovation hub active in the fields of nanoelectronics and digital technologies. This will increase the production of Evonetix’s chips, enabling the platform to be manufactured at a commercial scale.
Microbiotica was established in 2016 as a spin-out from the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The company uses clinical data and detailed microbiome profiling to develop therapeutics and diagnostic biomarkers
In 2018, Microbiotica entered into a collaboration with Genentech worth up to €452M to develop microbiome-based treatments for inflammatory bowel disease. The company is also developing treatments for cancer and Clostridium difficile infections
In June, Microbiotica started a collaboration with Cancer Research UK and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to identify and develop combinations of microbiome therapeutics and biomarkers for cancer patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.
NodThera is targeting several inflammatory conditions affecting the liver, lungs, and bowels. These conditions involve excessive activation of a multi-protein complex called the NLRP3 inflammasome, which has received a lot of interest from big pharma over the past year. This complex regulates the release of two proinflammatory proteins that normally help the body to get rid of infection or heal tissue damage.
The company raised €48.7M in Series B funding in the summer. Its most advanced candidate is now in phase I clinical trials.
CN Bio Innovations
CN Bio Innovations develops human organ-on-a-chip technology for testing and developing therapies to treat human diseases. Having initially operated in stealth mode, the company is now selling products and services and vocal about it.
CN Bio works with academic bioengineering groups at MIT and Imperial College London and provides its technology to the US FDA. Last month, the company launched a commercial drug metabolism and safety toxicity testing service for researchers and companies to assess liver toxicity of various compounds.
Cover illustration by Anastasiia Slynko