Deep Science Ventures deepens CRUK pact to co-found oncology startups

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The venture builder Deep Science Ventures (DSV) has expanded an existing alliance with Cancer Research UK’s innovation-focused arm Cancer Research Horizons, with the mission to establish new oncology startups in the U.K.

Just months after Cancer Research UK (CRUK) established its industry-orientated division Cancer Research Horizons, the research charity has doubled down on a collaboration with DSV, a U.K. venture builder operating in a range of sectors including biotech, agriculture and computation. 

According to the latest agreement, the partners will co-found startups working in up to 10 areas of oncology, such as improving the number of patients that can benefit from immuno-oncology treatments.

The resulting ventures from the new agreement will be incubated in Cancer Research Horizons’ laboratory network. The first startup is expected to focus on re-tuning the immune system to make it respond better to immunotherapies. Another startup will develop treatments for neurofibromatosis, a collection of rare genetic disorders causing benign tumors to grow on nerves and often causing a range of complications such as pain, hearing loss and learning impairment.

To support the efforts of the neurofibromatosis project, DSV and Cancer Research Horizons have enlisted the nonprofit organization the Children’s Tumor Foundation, which has a wide network of expertise around neurofibromatosis. The partners are also on the lookout for other private and non-profit partners to work with them in other oncology areas.

According to Laura Fletcher, head of business development and strategic partnerships at DSV, cancer remains a big killer worldwide despite the billions invested into cancer research each year.

“We’ve seen these very exciting advances around certain types of immunotherapies, whether that be cell-based therapies or checkpoint inhibitor therapies,” she noted. “And some patients do indeed respond really, really well, but equally there is a huge subset of patients that respond very poorly, don’t respond at all or develop rapid resistance to these sorts of therapies. So there’s clearly still a very high unmet need for finding new ways to tackle that.”

One area of focus for the partnership is specific types of esophageal and other solid tumors that are able to suppress immune cells despite having been infiltrated by the immune cells. Research is underway to discover a multi-pronged strategy that can flip the immune cells back into attack mode in these types of tumors.

DSV has worked with CRUK before to establish the companies Enedra Therapeutics, Stratosvir and Neobe Therapeutics. Unlike many investment firms, DSV specializes in building companies from scratch based on original scientific research, and getting them off the ground with the help of so-called founding analysts in its network.

Despite suffering an income squeeze during the COVID-19 pandemic, CRUK is emerging with fresh energy to improve the treatment of cancer. Earlier this year, it combined multiple research divisions into Cancer Research Horizons as part of an effort to accelerate and fund oncology innovation.

“Cancer Research Horizons supports an exceptional network of over 4,000 researchers,” stated Hamish Ryder, CEO of Cancer Research Horizon’s Therapeutic innovation organization. “Our venture creation alliance with Deep Science Ventures provides them with the opportunity to get involved in a novel model for innovation which we hope will tackle some of the most pressing challenges in cancer medicine, driving forward positive change in how we treat patients.” 

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