Cancer Research UK reports its most successful financial year for its biotech spinout companies, despite pressures during the pandemic.

The charity’s commercial arm saw the amount of money from both internal and external sources invested in its spinouts more than double in the last year from £400m (2019/20) to £822m (2020/21). This takes the total investment to date to £2.3 billion, and the total number of spinouts created to over 60.

Cancer Research UK has built an incredible production line for cutting edge start-up companies — one of the most successful in the world.

– Iain Foulkes, chief executive officer of Cancer Research Technology and executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK

Attracting investment is vital to allow spinouts to develop cancer therapies and diagnostics, increasing the likelihood that they will benefit patients sooner.

Notable spinout investments this financial year included ADC Therapeutics, Monte Rosa Therapeutics, Autolus Therapeutics and Achilles Therapeutics.

Star spinouts

ADC Therapeutics raised over £240m in capital and gained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April this year for their lymphoma drug, Zynlonta. FDA approval means that the drug will now be available in the US to treat adults with diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL).

The FDA is responsible for regulating food and drug products to ensure that they are safe and effective for the US public. FDA approval often leads to fast-tracked approval of drugs in countries like the UK.

Monte Rosa Therapeutics, a biotechnology company specialising in potential drugs to target and destroy proteins essential for cancer survival, raised over £170m. One of Monte Rosa’s drug candidates for the treatment of lung cancer is currently undergoing studies to determine its safety and dosage for phase 1 clinical trials in humans.

Autolus Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company developing T cell therapies, a type of immunotherapy used to train your immune cells to recognise and kill cancer cells, raised £83m. One of Autolus’s drug candidates, based on early research funded by Cancer Research UK, is set to enter phase 1 clinical trials in early 2022, for the treatment of patients with neuroblastoma.

In addition, 2 Cancer Research UK spinouts managed to close their Initial Public Offering (IPO) this year. This milestone marks the ‘birth’ of a company in its public form, opening the company up to investors and increasing its ability to raise cash.

ADC Therapeutics closed its IPO at over $267.6m on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in May last year. The NYSE, located in New York, is the oldest American exchange in existence and the largest stock exchange in the world.

And Achilles Therapeutics closed its IPO at $175.5m on NASDAQ in April this year. Unlike the NYSE, NASDAQ is a global electronic marketplace for buying and trading. The biopharmaceutical company — co-founded by Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Clinician — is developing T cell therapies to treat multiple types of solid tumours.

Speaking about his company, Achilles, Professor Swanton said: “Its success highlights just how exceptional Cancer Research UK is at bringing research out of the confinement of a lab and into the hands of patients.”

Achilles has 2 early-stage trials (phase 1/2a) ongoing, including testing their T cell therapy for patients with advanced non small lung cancer and melanoma that’s come back or spread to other parts of the body.

Any revenue that the charity generates from its commercial activities, including spinouts, is ploughed straight back into lifesaving cancer research. The report found that £36.4m in revenue was used for this purpose in the last financial year.

Innovating through a pandemic

The pandemic has shone a light on the life sciences sector as indispensable for tackling large-scale, complex health issues like cancer. And the UK Government’s backing of science and its call for the country to become a science superpower may also be creating a ‘halo’ effect for the sector.

Iain Foulkes said: “Despite an incredibly difficult year, we’ve shown the power of bringing researchers from academia and industry together in partnerships that will change human health for the better.

Our world class research, funded by the British public, is getting picked up by companies that develop tomorrow’s cancer treatments.

“These spinouts secure funding from investors around the world who believe in our science and the power of partnership. We are more committed than ever to bring those life-saving discoveries out of the lab and translate them into patient benefit.”

Read the full annual report for 2020/2021 from Cancer Research UK’s Commercial Partnerships to find out more about the charity’s commercial activities over the past financial year.

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