These are the top biotech companies based in Stevenage, an English town that has become a life sciences hub that competes with the likes of London, Oxford, and Cambridge.
The UK’s life sciences scene is mostly centered around the golden triangle of London, Oxford, and Cambridge. Situated right in the middle of this triangle, the town of Stevenage has established itself as a biotech hub over the past decade.
In 2010, the Stevenage BioScience Catalyst (SBC) was founded as a collaboration between the UK government and the big pharma company GSK. “The campus is home to major organizations including GSK, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult manufacturing center, LifeArc, and Cytiva alongside a growing cluster of over 40 startup companies,” said Sally Ann Forsyth, CEO at SBC.
Within easy reach of the academic centers of the golden triangle, the SBC has rapidly grown into the largest cluster of cell and gene therapy companies in Europe. The total private equity investment in biotechnology raised in Stevenage over the last four years is similar to that of Cambridge, Oxford, and London. In comparison, the average deal size in Stevenage was more than five times greater than the other clusters.
“Stevenage is less well known than some of the UK’s major university cities but is a jewel of a location. It offers easy access to London by train and is also close to the R&D site of a major pharma, GSK, so provides a pool of like-minded scientists for networking and recruitment,” said Roberto Solari, CEO and co-founder of Myricx Pharma, a biotech company based in Stevenage.
With further investment expected to pour into the Stevenage biotech hub by GSK over the next decade, the success of companies based in this cluster is only expected to keep growing over time.
Based in London and Stevenage, Achilles Therapeutics develops personalized T cell therapies against cancer that use a type of immune cells known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). The company’s approach consists of extracting TILs from the patient and selecting those that target cancer neoantigens – mutated proteins that are only present in tumor cells.
Achilles Therapeutics is currently running phase I/II clinical trials in lung cancer and melanoma patients. In March 2021, the company completed an IPO on the Nasdaq that followed a wave of investments in biotech companies targeting neoantigens to treat cancer.
Autifony Therapeutics is a spin-off from the big pharma company GSK, which has its UK research hub in Stevenage. The company develops drugs for genetic disorders of the central nervous system as well as hearing disorders. Autifony’s treatments target ion channel proteins, which are essential to neuron activity.
Among others, the firm is testing its candidate in phase I as a treatment for schizophrenia and the genetic condition fragile X syndrome. Last year, Autifony Therapeutics signed a deal with Boehringer Ingelheim to develop drugs for Parkinson’s and other related disorders.
A spin-out of University College London, Autolus Therapeutics develops CAR-T cell therapies for cancer. The approach consists of engineering T cells extracted from the patient in order to improve their ability to find and kill cancer cells.
The company expects to have data from a pivotal clinical trial in patients with acute myeloid leukemia in 2022. Its pipeline includes cells that have been engineered to identify two cancer targets simultaneously, as well as treatments for solid tumors, which are currently a big challenge for CAR-T therapies to address.
Freeline Therapeutics develops gene therapies for chronic genetic diseases. The company’s technology, which originated at University College London, uses adeno-associated viruses to deliver gene therapies that can tackle more complex genetic disorders than existing treatments.
In late 2021 Freeline Therapeutics obtained positive preliminary data from two ongoing phase I/II clinical trials in hemophilia B and Fabry disease. In early 2022, the company will be starting a third phase I/II clinical trial in Gaucher disease.
Based in Copenhagen and Stevenage, Galecto develops treatments for conditions related to fibrosis, inflammation and cancer. The company targets galectins, a group of proteins that are involved in the pathological generation of scar tissue, known as fibrosis, as well as inflammation and cancer. Together these proteins are related to a wide range of conditions across multiple organs.
Galecto is currently running four phase II trials in cancer and fibrotic indications. In 2022 the company expects to have results from its programs in myelofibrosis and lung cancer.
Based in London and Stevenage, ImmTune Therapies aims to simplify cell therapy manufacturing in order to reduce the massive production costs of these treatments and make them more easily accessible to patients. The target is CAR-T therapies for cancer, which currently are manufactured individually by engineering the patient’s own immune cells. The company is developing an alternative method to engineer the cells directly inside the patient’s body that would significantly decrease the cost and time required to make and deliver these treatments.
Myricx Pharma is a drug discovery startup that targets an enzyme known as N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), which makes modifications to proteins within our cells that are essential to their function. Early research has proven NMT could be a highly effective target against cancers caused by mutations in MYC genes, which until now were considered to be undruggable. The company will also be targeting viral infections, including the rhinovirus responsible for most cases of the common cold.
The company was launched in 2020 with a €5.4M (£4.5M) investment from life science VCs. Its technology is based on research at Imperial College London and the Francis Crick Institute.
A spin-out from GSK, NeRRe Therapeutics focuses on developing orvepitant, a drug candidate to treat chronic cough. The drug has shown to be effective in patients with chronic refractory cough with a high frequency of coughing, and the company now plans to test it to treat coughing in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
The company received a €20M series B2 investment in July 2021 that will fund the preparations for a phase IIb trial in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Based in Philadelphia and Stevenage, Ossianix develops treatments inspired by the antibodies from sharks. Their small size allows them to cross the blood-brain barrier and target the brain, which is a challenge for most drugs.
The company is running preclinical programs in neurodegenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, pain, and botulism. Ossianix has also shown that its antibodies could be effective against Covid-19 infections.
ReViral develops antiviral therapies focusing on the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. The virus seriously impacts children, the elderly and the immunocompromised. However, there are no FDA-approved treatments for RSV in adults, only for children.
The company is running two phase II trials with its lead candidate drug, one in infants and another in adults.