The first of a 120-strong team of scientists start work at a new cancer research and development company based in Liverpool.
The launch of Redx Oncology is a significant milestone in the city’s plans to develop its knowledge-based economy.
The firm is also the first spin out from Redx Pharma, an early stage drug development company already based in the city.
Redx Oncology has been backed with £5.9 million of public money from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund - the only UK biotech to receive public sector support in the last round of funding.
Redx has also proved attractive to private investors, brokered by Acceleris, the Manchester-based corporate finance boutique.
Redx Oncology starts life with a five-year programme based around Redx Pharma’s existing pipeline of research cancer drugs. These cover a wide variety of cancer types, and are designed to deliver a flow of experimental drugs for progression into human clinical trials.
Derek Lindsay, managing director of Redx Oncology, says: “Liverpool has a highly respected reputation in cancer care. The Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre along with the University of Liverpool and the Royal Liverpool Hospital provide a rich environment for developing new remedies against cancer. We believe that our new Oncology R&D centre will provide an important new resource in the challenge of improving the patient experiences and outcomes with this disease.”
The Redx Oncology team consists of chemists, analytical scientists, biology scientists, administration staff and up to 24 trainees. Many of these new staff are being recruited from outside of the area.
For now Redx Oncology will operate from labs within the University of Liverpool’s Duncan Building but it is part of a wider vision and will be anchor tenant of a new Liverpool BioInnovation Centre.
This building will have 70,000 sq ft of lab space and was granted planning permission in March. It represents the first phase of a new BioCampus in the city - an ambitious scheme being driven by a partnership between the Royal Liverpool Hospital, the University of Liverpool and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
The BioCampus will sit alongside the planned new £451m Royal Liverpool Hospital and will bring together the expertise of medics, academics and biotech companies.
Tony Bell, chief executive of the Royal, said: “The key to successful knowledge economies is being able to connect academic and specialist research assets to emerging technologies that have major market potential, which is the Silicon Valley model and it’s something the BioCampus has been designed to emulate.”
Max Steinberg, chief executive of Liverpool Vision, the city's economic development company, which supported Redx’s RGF bid said: “The expansion of Redx is a powerful statement of intent in respect of Liverpool's ambitions in bio sciences and we wish the team at Redx Oncology every success with growing the business and contributing to Liverpool’s reputation as a centre of excellence for cancer research.”
Redx has been able to galvanize support because it has opened up a potentially vast new intellectual property space.
“Our approach is based on modifying existing drugs to create novel therapies which have their own IP value” says Dr Neil Murray, chief executive of Redx Pharma.
The Redx approach challenges conventional wisdom within big pharma. A pharmacophore is the accepted chemical model explaining how known medicines bind to their targets.
Traditionally scientists would try and improve upon existing drugs by making chemical changes in such a way as to leave the essential phamacophore unchanged.
Redx challenges the dogma of how to improve upon existing medicines by fundamentally changing the pharmacophore of these drugs and, therefore, entering uncharted drug space which leads to a number of potential benefits.
“Working in this way, we have created a substantial library of original compounds,” says Dr Murray. “A significant number of these compounds have passed the proof of concept stage. They promise a variety of patient benefits such as greater efficacy, fewer side effects or offer a different means of delivery - a pill, for example, as opposed to an injection.”
The company's Redox Switch™ platform technology is at the heart of this process. It allows for rapid assessment of new drug candidates, which can go forward to development programs with lower risk and greater speed through clinical trials.
The compounds which pass proof of concept stage are potentially the product line that will allow Redx to achieve revenues by entering into licensing agreements with mid-sized and large pharmaceutical partners who undertake further clinical studies on promising new drug compounds. As Dr Murray puts it: “We’re a discovery engine for big pharma.”
In addition to its cancer portfolio, Redx Pharma has a pipeline of new compounds in several other therapeutic areas. It is progressing programs in the areas of cardiovascular medicine, influenza and antibiotics.
Redx Pharma expects to do its first commercial deals this year. Dr Murray says Redx Oncology expects to achieve the same in the second year of operations.