Biotarget Competition: Speeding up the race to beat cancer
by Kira Schuetzenhofer, Writer
There is an urgent need to develop novel drugs and technologies for the treatment of cancer, tackling problems of low efficacy of current drugs and high patient mortality. On the 11th June the Science Entrepreneur Club, in collaboration with Clustermarket, Arctoris and Insilico Medicine, and the support of Cancer Research UK, hosted the first Biotarget competition to promote early-stage start-ups that are developing new strategies to fuel the fight against cancer.
The eight finalists – Macromoltek, NANOGAP Therapeutics, Delve Therapeutics, HOX Therapeutics, Synchrony, Arxeon, Spycombinator and CDK11B – pitched their visions to four judges in the hope of winning access to Arctoris’ cloud lab, allowing them to design and order an experiment which is carried out by a robotics platform. The judges – Sonal Patel, Oncology Lead at Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centre, Jackie Hunter, CEO of BenevolentBio, Vishal Gulati, Health Tech Investor and Tony Hickson, CBO of Cancer Research UK – took into consideration the individual start-up’s scientific and entrepreneurial approach and how the respective technologies or molecules address urgent needs in cancer therapy. NANOGAP Therapeutics won £100K-worth of experimentation with the cloud lab, while Spycombinator and CDK11B earned £50K and £20K worth of experiments, respectively.
NANOGAP Therapeutics – an unlikely off-shoot of a petrochemical industrial company – owns the patent to a novel class of atomic silver clusters, which can be imagined as similar to hair relaxers but for DNA. By loosening the compaction of DNA, they increase the access and efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs that directly interact with DNA in rapidly dividing tumour cells. Atomic silver clusters of different size have been shown to target notoriously stubborn cancer cells with a particular mutation in a gene called K-ras. These clusters can catalyse the generation of a class of molecules, called reactive oxygen species, which wreak havoc in the cell and ultimately lead to its death. The company is currently testing its product on animals, with stakes set for human trials to start in 2021.
When asked about how NANOGAP plans to use Arctoris’ lab, the CEO Ross Beckenridge explained that they would use it to robotise their experiments, and specifically test how their drug compares to 20 others on 20 different types of cancer cells. “We are interested in a blood test to detect tumours that are sensitive to our drug, as well as how our drug would interact with therapies that are already in use on a cellular level,” Beckenridge said.
Spycombinator, the runner-up, is building a massive robotic screening library that uses a patented technology called Spycatcher, which “glues” receptor proteins together and probes drug-drug interactions.
CDK11B, the winner of the third prize, cultivates cancer cells and systematically deletes various potential target genes of drugs of interest, allowing them to single out the true targets of various molecules and identify unknown and novel target genes.
Biotech start-ups, like the ones that took part in this competition, provide valuable creative technologies that drive advances against cancer. We hope that events like Biotarget 2019 will encourage young and innovative entrepreneurs and their start-ups to reach their full potential, and thereby contribute to the treatment of cancer.