Here are the top biotech companies in Oxford, a city with an old scientific tradition and an enormous output of biotech applications.
Oxford is well known for its university, one of the oldest in Europe and considered to be one of the best in the world. Recently, the University of Oxford has been the center of attention thanks to an experimental Covid-19 vaccine that the university is developing in partnership with big pharmaceutical companies. If successful, the vaccine, already in phase III testing, could be one of the first to get approval for this new disease.
The University of Oxford has hosted thousands of bright minds over the years. Thanks to its emphasis on technology transfer, the university has also helped a large number of them turn their ideas into successful spinout companies. The environment created around the university has also attracted many talents and businesses to the city, making it the ideal melting pot for new and promising ideas.
Biotech is one of the fortes of the innovation seen in the city of Oxford. So we consulted with local experts to put together a list of the most remarkable companies in the city, be it for their size, innovation, or influence in the sector.
Founded in 2008, Immunocore is one of just a few private biotech companies in Europe that are estimated to be worth over €1B. The company is tackling multiple forms of cancer as well as infectious and autoimmune diseases using T-cell receptor (TCR) technology.
TCRs are proteins on the surface of immune T cells that are responsible for identifying a threat that must be destroyed, such as cancerous or infected cells. Immunocore aims to patients with engineered TCRs to circumvent the mechanisms by which these threats evade the immune system, restoring its ability to fight disease.
The company is collaborating on several projects with Genentech, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, and GSK. Its most advanced program is a treatment for uveal melanoma that is currently in phase III trials. Other programs target solid tumors, hepatitis, HIV, and type 1 diabetes.
Adaptimmune Therapeutics was founded at the same time as Immunocore with the goal of exploiting TCR technology in the form of T-cell therapy. The company engineers the TCRs naturally present on the patient’s own immune T cells to improve their ability to identify cancerous cells.
Adaptimmune is now getting ready to start late-stage clinical trials in multiple cancer types. Thanks to a deal with Astellas Pharma, the company is also gearing up to start clinical testing of a version of its T-cell therapy that doesn’t require engineering each dose individually for each patient, using donor cells instead. Adaptimmune also has several partnerships with companies including GSK, Noile-Immune Biotech, and Alpine Immune Sciences.
Oxford Biodynamics was spun out of Oxford University in 2007 with the goal of developing liquid biopsy tests that can perform a diagnosis from just a drop of blood. The company specializes in epigenetics, that is changes to the structure of our DNA that determines which genes are switched on or off.
Oxford Biodynamics works in a wide range of indications, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis among many others. The tests are not only designed to diagnose a disease; they can also be made to determine which patients are going to benefit the most from a specific drug, and how likely the disease is to progress faster or relapse.
With these tests, the company is supporting the development of personalized medicine approaches and helping drug developers increase their chances of succeeding in clinical trials. Partners include big pharma such as Pfizer and EMD, as well as universities and research institutes.
Chronos Therapeutics started out in 2009 as a spinout of the University of Oxford with the goal of developing drugs for age-related conditions. The company’s lead program targets amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common motor neuron disease, for which there are no treatments able to stop its progression.
Over time, the company has expanded its portfolio into other indications, particularly those that affect the brain, by acquiring assets from third parties. They include programs targeting fatigue caused by multiple sclerosis, addictive behaviors such as binge eating and alcohol use disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Evox Therapeutics is developing a drug delivery technology based on exosomes — nanoparticles that our bodies naturally use to transport molecules. The company engineers exosomes to carry different types of drugs, such as proteins, RNA, or small drugs. The key advantage is that these natural carriers are able to reach targets that conventional drug delivery systems can’t, such as the brain.
Founded in 2016, the company has signed big deals with Takeda and Eli Lilly. Its programs are all in preclinical testing and mostly target rare diseases. One of them targets the rare liver disorder argininosuccinic aciduria and is scheduled to enter clinical trials in 2021.
Exscientia is a pioneer in the application of artificial intelligence to drug discovery. The company uses AI to identify potential drug candidates and optimize their structure to maximize their chances of success in clinical trials. The goal is to speed up and reduce the costs of the drug discovery process.
Earlier this year, the company’s drug candidate for obsessive-compulsive disorder became one of the first AI-designed drugs to enter clinical trials. While a drug typically takes five years from identification until clinical trials, this one did so in just a year.
Exscientia is partnered with Bayer, BMS, Sanofi, and GSk among others. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the company set out to go through a database of 15,000 approved and investigational drugs that had already passed safety testing to find candidates that can then be fast-tracked to clinical testing in Covid-19 patients.
Oxford Biomedica was set up in 1995 as a developer and provider of lentiviral vectors for gene and cell therapy. These vectors allow the permanent introduction of a desired DNA sequence into a target cell, be it in the test tube or directly in the patient’s body.
The technology of Oxford Biomedica is regularly used by companies such as Novartis, Sanofi, Boehringer Ingelheim, Imperial Innovations, and Orchard Therapeutics. Notably, the vectors developed by the company are used in Novartis’ Kymriah, the first CAR T-cell therapy approved in Europe and the US as a cancer treatment.
Oxford Biomedica also has a preclinical pipeline of proprietary programs in a wide range of applications, including cancer, eye disease, ALS, and liver disease. Last year, the company struck a deal with Microsoft to reduce the complexity and costs of gene and cell therapy manufacturing using artificial intelligence.
Arctoris was founded in 2016 with the aim of bringing the benefits of automation to cancer research, later expanding to all areas of drug discovery. Through the company’s services, a researcher could just order an experiment online and spend their valuable time designing experiments and analyzing results rather than performing the repetitive tasks needed to complete them.
Arctoris aims to contribute to reducing the costs of drug discovery, which are increasing every year as treatments become personalized and results more difficult to replicate. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Arctoris has established assays that allow scientists the possibility of running Covid-19 experiments remotely.
Founded in 2015, Orbit Discovery is a drug discovery company focusing on the identification of peptide drugs. The company has developed a technology that significantly improves on conventional methods of drug screening such as phage display or mRNA display.
The technology consists of fusing peptides to the DNA sequence encoding them and presenting them to live cells. This method allows the screening of peptide targets that were previously missed by other technologies, and to study their effect on live cells to better predict their function.
The company has already identified several candidates in the areas of cardiology, immunology, and cancer, and is working with partners such as Zealand Pharma in their preclinical development.
OxStem is a drug discovery company with an unusual approach to stem cell treatments. Instead of using stem cells as a therapy, the firm focuses on developing small molecule drugs that can reprogram the patient’s own stem cells to treat a wide range of diseases related to aging, including cancer and diabetes as well as neurological, cardiovascular, and ocular conditions.
Founded in 2013, the strategy of OxStem is to spin out companies that specialize in each disease area to focus on the development of the drugs found by the parent company, with five subsidiaries set up so far.