Shamrocks, leprechauns, rolling green fields and Guiness beer: all quickly bring Ireland to mind. Beyond these postcard-ready images, Ireland has an economy on the upswing and is a preferred destination for some big pharmas. What about biotech?
The low corporate tax policies of Ireland have managed to attract some big names, and the biopharma industry is no exception. The most (in)famous example is the now-failed merger between Pfizer and Allergan. Nevertheless, Pfizer still has a considerable investment there in R&D and manufacturing sites, as does the giant GE Healthcare and other multinationals. Meanwhile, Allergan, Prothena, and Alkermes are all examples of sizable biopharmas that have Ireland as their corporate home.
Ireland’s role as an increasingly popular “European headquarter” has also spawned two innovative initiatives. RebelBio, an early synbio incubator located in Cork, started out as a European edition of San Francisco’s IndieBio. BioInnovate, focused on medical technology, was modeled after the famous Stanford Biodesign.
The biotech ecosystem, which we visited during Labiotech Tours, is also made up of smaller native biotechs. Some are based on developments of academic centers like the renowned Trinity College Dublin. We went looking for them.
Thank you to the Ireland insiders who helped us put this list together. As usual, the companies are not in any particular order.
Inflazome was quick to make an eye-catching debut, raising €15M in a Series A round and managing to get support from the Novartis Ventures Funds, all shortly after being founded last year. It has an academic background, having been co-founded by Luke O’Neill of the Trinity College Dublin, one of our picks for best scientist/entrepreneurs in European biotech.
The young biotech is tackling inflammation, one of the most sought-after and profitable areas in biotechs. It develops small-molecule drugs that block inflammasomes, groups of proteins heavily involved in cell communication and inflammation stimulation. Yet without clinical programs, Inflazome names Alzheimer’s and type II diabetes as possible indications its technology could tackle.
Founded in 2011, Allogen Biotech develops devices to detect food contamination and allergens. It has gathered investment and awards from the startup ecosystem in Ireland, as well as prizes from the food industry.
The company develops its technology in collaboration with the Institute of Technology Tallaght and its R&D facility for biosensors, MiCRA. After early proof of concepts studies, it is now undergoing product development for a commercial solution. Recently, it received €50k from an EU research grant.
DS Biopharma was founded in 2010 and develops a technology platform of bioactive lipids. The semi-synthetic fatty acids it develops can have broad applications, from inflammatory skin diseases to metabolic disorders.
Two Phase II trials are currently underway for its leading candidate, DS107, in atopic dermatitis, while the biotech is also exploring other indications and a second candidate. The applications in NASH liver disease, an indication that has garnered substantial interest, and pulmonary fibrosis have recently been spun out as a different company, Afimmune.
Focused on cancer diagnostics, Oncomark is a spin-out of the University College Dublin. It was founded in 2007 and has raised around €4.5M from EU funding for research, startup supporters like Enterprise Ireland and angel investors.
It develops novel cancer biomarkers, a very active area in the biotech industry, which can help tailor oncology treatments. Oncomark’s leading product is OncoMasTR, a multi-biomarker panel for early breast cancer patients.
Opsona Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharma, focusing on the modulation of the immune system. Since its establishment in 2004, it has raised over €60M in 3 different rounds. Its latest investors include a good number of venture arms from well-known pharmas and biotechs, including Novartis, Roche and Amgen.
Opsona’s strategy looks into the pathways that initiate the innate immune system, such as Toll-Like Receptors (TLRs) and the inflammasome. This has yielded one candidate, OPN-305, which is in different clinical trials. In the area of oncology, is being evaluated in a Phase I/II study for certain types of blood cancers, and has an ongoing Phase II trial for renal transplantation.
Based in Galway, Orbsen Therapeutics develops novel cell therapies. It was formed in 2006 as a spin-out from Ireland’s Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI). It has collaborations with 25 different projects and laboratories, which are supported by €25M of EU funding.
Orbsen Therapeutic’s key technology is a novel methods to isolate mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC), which can be administered to patients as an allogeneic cell therapy. These therapies are in preclinical and early clinical development, and target a wide range of conditions related to inflammation and autoimmune disorders.
Founded in 2009, Neuravi has a very physical approach to deal with stroke: neurointerventional therapy. It’s currently at the clinical stage and has raised over €24M from investors, including major European investor Life Science Partners. Recently, Neuravi was acquired by Codman Neuro, based in the US, for an undisclosed amount.
Its devices, EmboTrap, are stents that physically remove blood clots, in order to treat patients with ischemic stroke, a very common cardiovascular disease that often has a difficult recovery. EmboTrap’s design is meant to trap the blood cot inside and restores blood flow immediately, reducing the consequences of the stroke for patients.
Based in Cork, Solvotrin Therapeutics wants to improve existing medication. It was founded in 2009 as a spin-out of Trinity College Dublin, and has raised over €5.5M in 3 financing rounds.
Solvotrin Therapeutics’ programs are based on research on prodrugs, medications that become active only after metabolization and often have improved bioavailability. Its first product is Active Iron, an improved iron supplement, but the company is also looking into developing candidates for cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, as well as cancer.
Based in Dublin, Heart Metabolics was founded in 2014, and its Series A financing round amassed $20M from private investors. It focuses on a single indication, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), for which it is repurposing an old drug, perhexiline, to be the first specific treatment for this cardiovascular condition.
Due to the track record of this drug to treat other heart conditions, Heart Metabolics is already advanced in its clinical program. It’s currently carrying out a Phase II trial in the US and has obtained FDA approval for a Phase III trial with special conditions.
Metabolomic Diagnostics was founded in 2011 and is collaborating with the University College Cork in breakthrough technology for medical diagnostics. So far, it has raised over €3M, including from SOSV, the VC also behing RebelBio.
The company’s first diagnostics focus on preeclampsia, a disease that can result in serious pregnancy complications. With promising initial results, Metabolomic Diagnostics is now working on the development and validation of its diagnostic.
Founded in 2015, Genomics Medicine Ireland already managed to raise €36M ($40M) in its first financing round for this health discovery project that spans the entire country.
The goal is to look into the human genome of the Irish population and examine and find relationships between genetics, health and disease. It brings together researchers, clinicians, and Artificial Intelligence to tackle the next generation of health challenges.
Ireland has an exciting mix of therapeutic biotech tackling some of the most relevant health conditions, bringing in novel research insights, and companies in the areas of diagnostics, devices and bioinformatics. Together with the supporting net of big life science companies and a startup-friendly environment, we should be able to see some great things come out of Irish biotech.
Images from Patrick Kosmider, Jacob Lund, molekuul_be, thailoei92, Photo Fun, anayaivanova, Kiattipong, Vladimir Staykov, vitstudio, isak55, Olena Brodetska, Amanda Larson