The UK is home to several biotech hubs, including the famous ‘golden triangle’, made up of Oxford, Cambridge, and London. In fact, after a $700 million surge in funding in the third quarter of 2023, the UK biotech scene is now one of the most vibrant in Europe, laying the foundation for numerous companies to develop innovative technologies, some of which have spun out of the nation’s most prestigious universities. In this article, we take a look at 16 UK biotech companies you should know.
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Amphista Therapeutics is focused on transforming the lives of patients with severe diseases, with a particular focus on cancer. The company is applying its proprietary Amphista degrader platform to advance new approaches in targeted protein degradation (TPD). Its next-generation bifunctional molecules use a novel approach that makes use of a wider range of the body’s own innate protein degrading mechanisms than those used by most other TPD companies. This proprietary approach offers the potential to overcome many of the limitations seen with current TPD approaches – such as those associated with the use of a narrow range of protein degrading mechanisms – providing the opportunity to treat a wider range of diseases.
In May last year, the UK biotech company announced that it had achieved its first discovery milestone under its collaboration and license agreement with Bristol Myers Squibb. This agreement was formed in 2022, and included a $30 million upfront payment, the potential for up to $1.25 billion in performance-based milestone payments, and payment for a limited expansion of the collaboration, as well as royalties on global net sales of products.
Furthermore, in January 2024, Amphista unveiled new data demonstrating the potential of its protein degraders in animal models, which marks a step toward bringing its technology to the clinic. The findings showed the company’s therapies reduced tumor size and boosted survival, and also successfully knocked down target proteins in the brains of dogs and monkeys.
Apollo Therapeutics’ approach to drug development is to take breakthroughs in basic medical research – for example, from universities – and progress that research into pre-clinical and clinical-stage assets, with the goal of eventually turning them into new treatment options. And, to help translate some of the world-leading basic biomedical research conducted in the UK into innovative new therapies, the biotech company has core innovation sourcing and drug discovery collaborations with five UK universities: University of Cambridge, University College London, Imperial College London, King’s College London and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).
Apollo’s program selection is primarily driven by the quality of the science and the potential to transform the standard of care in major commercial markets. An example of one of Apollo’s lead programs, established through its collaboration with Imperial College London, is the development of a novel rhinovirus (RV) vaccine that prevents serious exacerbations of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). During the preclinical study for this, mice were immunized with an adjuvanted RV-A16 VP0 protein using a standard prime and boost model. The results indicated that the vaccine can provide cross-strain protection against RV infection.
Just last month, the UK-based biotech company announced the second close of a series C financing round, in which it managed to raise an additional $33.5 million, bringing its series C total to $260 million. Since its inception, Apollo has raised more than $450 million.
Focused on treating neurodegenerative diseases by correcting disrupted brain physiology, London-based AstronauTx was spun out from a family of specialized venture capital (VC) funds called the Dementia Discovery Fund in 2019, securing seed funding from University College London’s Technology Fund and the UK Future Fund.
According to AstronauTx, the disruption of normal clearance mechanisms, metabolism, and synaptic networks in the brain causes a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms and increasing pathology. Therefore, the company is instead targeting mechanisms that will have multifactorial benefits by improving the clearance of toxic materials – such as the accumulation of α-synuclein – from the brain, improving memory consolidation, boosting metabolism for efficient network function, and secreting trophic support – which refers to a variety of chemical signals that neurons need to continue living – for long-term neuronal health. The company currently has a portfolio of small molecule therapies to restore dysregulated physiology.
In October last year, the UK biotech company closed a $61 million series A financing round, which was led by the Novartis Venture Fund. Fellow giant Bristol Myers Squibb also participated in the round. The proceeds will be used to advance the company’s portfolio of small molecule drugs, including a clinical study in patients with Alzheimer’s disease for the lead program.
Autolus is developing next-generation, programmed T cell therapies for the treatment of cancer. Using a broad range of proprietary and modular T cell programming technologies, the company is engineering precisely targeted, controlled, and highly active T cell therapies that are designed to better recognize cancer cells, break down their defense mechanisms, and eliminate these cells. Autolus currently has a pipeline of product candidates in development for the treatment of hematological malignancies and solid tumors, including its lead candidate obe-cel, for the treatment of relapsed/refractory adult B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Autolus has signed license agreements with some big names in the industry. For example, in 2021, the company signed an option and license agreement with Moderna, for Moderna to gain access to its proprietary targeting technology. The agreement granted exclusive access to develop and commercialize mRNA therapeutics for up to four immuno-oncology targets. Meanwhile, in October 2022, Autolus also signed an agreement with Bristol Myers Squibb, giving the big pharma access to its RQR8 safety switch for selected cell therapy programs for the treatment of cancer.
Furthermore, in 2022, Autolus received $70 million in milestone payments from Blackstone Life Sciences. Out of this, $35 million was paid as a result of the joint steering committee’s review of Autolus’ interim analysis of its pivotal phase 2 trial of obe-cel in relapsed/refractory adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia, whereby the study met its primary endpoint, while the additional $35 million was paid as part of a pre-agreed manufacturing milestone due to the completion of planned activities demonstrating the performance and qualification of obe-cel’s manufacturing process.
Bicycle Therapeutics is developing a new class of drugs called bicyclic peptides. These novel molecules have a unique structure that can deliver high precision to their chosen targets, while their size and surface area mean they can potentially engage targets that have historically been resistant to conventional modalities.
The company is currently evaluating three candidates in its pipeline in phase 1/2 trials: BT8009, a bicycle toxin conjugate (BTC) targeting Nectin-4, which is a well-validated tumor antigen; BT5528, a BTC targeting EphA2, which is overexpressed in difficult to treat cancers; and BT7480, a bicycle tumor-targeted immune cell agonist targeting Nectin-4 and agonizing CD137, which is a member of the TNFR family involved in the activation of several immune cell types, including T cells and NK cells.
In March 2023, Bicycle announced a strategic collaboration with Novartis to develop, manufacture, and commercialize Bicycle radio-conjugates for multiple agreed-upon oncology targets. Two months later, the UK biotech company announced a similar collaboration with Bayer, as they also entered into an agreement to discover, develop, manufacture, and commercialize Bicycle radioconjugates for multiple agreed-upon oncology targets.
Spun out of the University of Cambridge in 2016, bit.bio is a synthetic biology company advancing a new generation of cures through precision reprogrammed cells. The company’s opti-ox precision cell programming and manufacturing technology enables the conversion of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into any desired human cell type in a single step, which can be achieved within days and at an industrial scale, while maintaining purity and consistency.
Meanwhile, its discovery platform extends this approach to any desired cell type by identifying the transcription factor combinations that define cell states – including identity, cell subtype identity, and maturity – using high throughput screens and advanced data analysis.
Its preclinical research areas include liver, immunology, and metabolic disease. In addition, the company’s extensive ioCells research cell product portfolio is opening up new possibilities for studying human biology and developing new medicines in research, as these cells could potentially solve the challenge of there being limited access to standardized, easy-to-use human cells. This is because ioCells can be precisely reprogrammed from iPSCs consistently and at scale.
In August last year, bit.bio announced a research collaboration and option agreement with BlueRock Therapeutics – a wholly owned, independently operated subsidiary of Bayer – for the discovery and manufacture of iPSC-derived regulatory T cells (Tregs) for use in creating therapeutics. Under the terms of the agreement, bit.bio uses its discovery platform to identify transcription factor combinations for reprogramming iPSCs into Tregs.
From a scientific foundation in epigenetic research, CellCentric is fully focused on the clinical potential of inhibiting p300/CBP with a novel oral drug.
The company’s drug is called inobrodib. It displaces p300/CBP and, as a result, impacts the expression of key cancer-driving genes, including MYC and IRF4, which are important in the progression of hematological malignancies. The inhibition of p300/CBP also impacts the androgen receptor expression, which is critical in late-stage prostate cancer, and the immune checkpoint protein PDL1. Different cancer indications can be targeted by inobrodib, either as a monotherapy or in combination with existing standard-of-care drugs.
In June 2023, CellCentric received a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fast track designation for inobrodib for the treatment of patients with relapsed refractory multiple myeloma. The drug is currently in phase 1/2a clinical trials for this indication. Furthermore, a month later, the UK biotech company also announced a $25 million strategic investment from Pfizer to help finance further development of inobrodib.
Anti-aging companies are becoming a big deal within the biotech industry of late. clock.bio is one such startup, based in Cambridge, that is developing novel regenerative medicines leveraging the natural ability of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) to prevent and treat age-related diseases. The UK biotech company says that it has found that hiPSCs have the ability not only to stay young, but also to rejuvenate when forced to age. Therefore, its approach is to harness this power of ‘resetting the clock’ in hiPSCs to identify new approaches to treating age-related diseases.
The company, which was founded by Mark Kotter (who is also the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of bit.bio), launched out of stealth in August 2023, after reaching proof-of-concept with $4 million in funding. Its immediate objective has been to decode all rejuvenation programs present in human cells, in order to build an atlas of disease and rejuvenation targets for clinical translation.
clock.bio has already developed an aging model that force-ages hiPSCs and triggers their self-rejuvenation mechanism, with unbiased CRISPR screens on large samples of these cells allowing the company to identify gene candidates that are causally relevant for cell rejuvenation. In fact, the company is now on track to decode the biology of human rejuvenation across the entire genome in 12 months.
Crescendo Biologics is an immuno-oncology company developing novel, targeted T cell-enhancing Humabody therapeutics. Its ability to develop these therapies is based on its unique, patent-protected, transgenic mouse platform generating fully human VH domain building blocks (Humabody VH). These molecules can be configured to engage therapeutic targets in such a way that they deliver novel pharmacology and superior bio-distribution. This can lead to larger therapeutic windows compared to conventional immunoglobulin G (IgG) approaches.
CB307 is Crescendo’s lead clinical candidate. It works by conditionally activating only tumor-specific T cells, exclusively within the tumor microenvironment using the CD137 co-stimulatory mechanism. Its unique format enables potent, tumor-specific killing, while avoiding systemic toxicity, and it can be applied to a broad range of PSMA+ cancer indications to address a large unmet medical need. In December 2023, Crescendo announced that the first U.S. patient had been dosed in an expanded phase 1b trial of CB307 for patients with PSMA+ metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.
In terms of collaborations, the UK biotech company has a big deal going with German giant BioNTech. In 2022, the two companies entered into a multi-target discovery collaboration to develop novel immunotherapies for the treatment of patients with cancer and other diseases.
A biotech company based in Scotland, EnteroBiotix’s mission is to transform the lives of patients through best-in-class microbiome medicines. Ultimately, the company aims to reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of fecal transplants, in which a healthy donor’s gut bacteria are transferred to the intestinal tract of a patient suffering from a microbiome-mediated disease.
In order to make the fecal transplants, EnteroBiotix has differentiated platform manufacturing technologies – including its novel proprietary AMPLA platform – that confer superior product characteristics. For example, unlike traditional intestinal microbiome transplant products, which come in liquid suspensions, are brown in color, and have an odor, EnteroBiotix’s medicines are dried, odorless, colorless, and formed as a powder.
The biotech company’s lead product, EBX-102, is being evaluated in a multi-center UK phase 2 clinical trial for treating the liver disease hepatic encephalopathy – a debilitating and recurring condition that causes neuropsychiatric conditions because of liver failure. In addition, EnteroBiotix also has a strategic partnership with Imperial College London to enable a phase 2 clinical trial in patients suffering from blood cancer.
Evox Therapeutics is focused on harnessing and engineering the natural delivery capabilities of extracellular vesicles, known as exosomes, to develop an entirely new class of therapeutics. More specifically, the exosomes are loaded with AAV particles encoding the therapeutic gene of interest (ExoAAV), in effect cloaking them within the exosome and protecting them from the immune system. The intention here is to overcome one of the major challenges for AAV and other viral gene therapies, in which the immune response to the viral vector limits patient access and often precludes multiple dosing.
The company’s proprietary DeliverEX platform enables it to load exosomes with diverse drug cargos, leverage the unique tissue targeting properties of exosomes, as well as support proprietary manufacturing and purification methods for advanced exosome therapeutics. Exosome-based drugs have the potential to address some of the limitations of protein, antibody, and nucleic acid-based therapies by enabling delivery to cells and tissues that are currently out of reach using other drug delivery technologies.
Back in 2020, Evox Therapeutics signed a major deal with Eli Lilly, worth up to $1.1 billion. The research collaboration and license agreement involved leveraging Evox’s DeliverEX platform to develop and deliver RNA interference (RNAi) & antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) drug payloads for the potential treatment of neurological disorders.
Exscientia is an artificial intelligence (AI) drug discovery company. It is focused on discovering, designing, and developing the best possible drugs in the fastest and most effective manner with its AI technology. In fact, the company is a pioneer within the AI field, having developed the first-ever functional precision oncology platform to successfully guide treatment selection and improve patient outcomes in a prospective interventional clinical study, and to progress AI-designed small molecules into the clinic.
The company’s lead candidate is called GTAEXS617, which is being investigated in a phase 1/2 clinical trial for the treatment of advanced solid tumors, including head and neck cancer, breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, as well as other types of cancers.
The UK biotech company has entered into several high-profile collaborations over the years. Perhaps the biggest of these collaborations has been with Sanofi, a partnership that began in 2017, when the two companies entered into a $273 million licensing deal focusing on the discovery of bispecific small molecule drugs for metabolic diseases. They then entered into another research and licensing agreement in 2022, to develop up to 15 small molecule candidates across oncology and immunology.
Based in Wales, Jellagen is advancing collagen biomaterials derived from jellyfish. Most collagen is currently derived from mammalian sources, including pigs, cows, and rats, which carry the risk of disease and virus transfer when used in humans. Therefore, as Jellagen sources its Collagen Type 0 from jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), these risks are avoided.
According to the UK biotech company, preclinical in vivo results have proven Collagen Type 0 to be superior to its mammalian counterparts in medical applications, and it also has the potential to deliver healing benefits in human applications. The company has established development collaborations with research organizations including the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. and others in Europe, to investigate and corroborate these findings.
In December 2022, Jellagen closed a £8.7 million ($10.5 million) series A funding round to help it advance its leading program of product development towards human trials and regulatory filing.
Sitryx is focused on regulating cell metabolism to develop disease-modifying therapeutics for chronic autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. The company says that most modern anti-inflammatory and oncology drugs intervene at a particular point causing immunosuppression with limited results, but that changing the state of different combinations of immune cells can have a much more wide-ranging impact to potentially resolve inflammation.
The company is currently building a broad and differentiated pipeline by identifying novel targeted approaches based on how changes in metabolism modulate immune cell function. Its pipeline consists of projects at multiple stages of drug discovery, with its most advanced candidate being SIT-011, for chronic autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.In fact, just last month, Eli Lilly, who signed an exclusive global licensing and research collaboration agreement with Sitryx in 2020, commenced a phase 1 first-in-human study of SIT-011.
Additionally, in September last year, Sitryx managed to raise an additional $39 million in funding, following on from its $30 million series A financing round announced in October 2018. The company said the proceeds would go toward progressing its therapies into clinical development.
T-Therapeutics is a next-generation T cell receptor (TCR) company spun off from the University of Cambridge, and was created to harness the power of T cell biology to create safe and effective treatments for many cancers and autoimmune diseases. The company is currently working on engineering highly specific soluble TCRs that bind very strongly to cancer-specific targets, assist the immune system in pinpointing tumor tissues, and then destroy them.
The company uses its proprietary OpTiMus platform to develop ‘optimal’ TCRs.
This platform is essentially a highly engineered transgenic mouse carrying genes for the human immune system. T-Therapeutics immunizes the mouse with human peptides and the mouse makes humanized TCRs that don’t exist in the human repertoire. The company says that this provides it with an almost unlimited supply of TCRs that have unique properties in terms of activity, affinity, half-life, and diversity. It also applies machine learning to enable the selection of the most active molecules, using these as building blocks to make its drug candidates.
In November 2023, T-Therapeutics raised £48 million ($59 million) in series A financing. The proceeds will be used to discover and develop novel TCR therapies for cancer indications and inflammatory disorders.
London-based Quell Therapeutics is a leader in developing engineered Treg cell therapies that aim to harness, direct, and optimize their immune suppressive properties to address serious medical conditions driven by the immune system. The company is leveraging its proprietary Foxp3 Phenotype Lock technology, unique multi-modular platform, and integrated manufacturing capabilities to design and develop a pipeline of highly engineered Treg cell therapies with greater potential for persistence, potency, and stability than earlier generations of Treg cell therapy approaches.
Quell’s lead candidate is called QEL-001. It is being developed to induce operational tolerance following liver transplantation, with the potential to protect the post-transplant liver without the need for chronic immunosuppressive medications. It is currently still in the research and preclinical development phase.
In June 2023, the UK biotech company announced that it had entered into a collaboration, exclusive option, and license agreement with AstraZeneca to develop, manufacture, and commercialize autologous, engineered Treg cell therapies for two autoimmune disease indications. Under the terms of the agreement, Quell received $85 million upfront from AstraZeneca, and is also eligible to receive over $2 billion for further development and commercialization milestones, if successful, plus tiered royalties.
A flourishing life sciences industry: ‘Life Sci for Growth’ package brings $650 million investment to UK
In May 2023, the UK government announced a package called ‘Life Sci for Growth’, in which £650 million ($804 million) would be invested to boost the nation’s life sciences sector. The package also included plans to relaunch the Academic Health Science Network as Health Innovation Networks to boost innovation by bringing together the NHS, local communities, charities, academia, and industry to share best practices. Additionally, a week before this announcement was made, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) also launched a 10-year science strategy for the nation.
Both of these recent announcements suggest that the UK is aiming to be a global science superpower. And given the surge in biotech funding seen in the third quarter of 2023, it is no exaggeration to say that the UK’s biotech industry is currently flourishing.
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