Booming Biotech: Five Start-Ups to Watch in Cambridge

March 9, 2020
Dr. Tim Guillams

CEO and co-founder of Healx.

According to recent figures, Cambridge’s technology sector is booming and the city is emerging as a hub for biotech companies.

Cambridge has emerged as one of the top hubs for biotech companies in the United Kingdom. It’s even acknowledged as the nearest thing Europe has to Silicon Valley, thanks to its status in science and innovation (1). The geographical clustering of companies has led to the southern tip of the English Fenland (coastal plain in eastern England) being dubbed ‘Silicon Fen’-a collection of tech companies focused on software, adtech (advertising technology), fintech (financial technology), electronics, and biotechnology. 

According to the Office for Life Sciences’ Bioscience and Health Technology Sector Statistics 2018 report (2), the UK life sciences industry employs 248,400 people in 5870 businesses and generates a turnover of £73.8 billion (€86.1 billion). Published in May 2019, these figures demonstrate how critical the life sciences sector is to the economy. Furthermore, ever-increasing global health challenges, such as the ageing population and antibiotic resistance are set to make this industry boom. As healthcare demands continue to rise so too does the strain on the healthcare system, making the need for technology within this space evermore integral.

In 2004, 24% of all UK venture capital (9% of all the European Union's) was received by Silicon Fen companies, according to the Cambridge Cluster Report 2004 produced by Library House and Grant Thornton (3). And according to research commissioned by the Digital Economy Council (4), over half of Cambridge’s population works in the technology sector-making this location one of the biggest employers in the UK. 

Looking more globally, Cambridge is widely perceived as the third most significant biotech hub in the world, after San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, and Boston’s Massachusetts Cluster (5). How can Cambridge close the gap on its rivals in the United States? Cambridge University’s long tradition of entrepreneurial researchers has resulted in the Cambridge Cluster, an ecosystem organically developed from academics joining Cambridge biotech start-ups whilst feeding back into academia. The significance of this ‘culture of ideas’ is a tradition of being both an academic and an entrepreneur, and having a network to support this path.
With all of this in mind, here are five of what I believe to be the most exciting biotech companies bubbling out of Cambridge’s ‘Silicon Fen’:

  • Mogrify: Mogrify utilizes a systematic Big Data-science approach powered by next-generation sequencing and gene-regulatory data to develop proprietary tailored cellular conversions that power every future cell therapy. Leveraging data from innovative sequencing and regulatory networks, the platform identifies the transcription factors or small molecules, needed to convert a cell. The approach will be applied to address the issues of efficacy, safety, and scalability currently associated with cell therapy development and manufacturing.

  • Fluidic Analytics: Fluidic Analytics designs, develops, and manufactures tools that seek to revolutionize the way proteins are characterized, allowing its customers to understand the machinery of life. The company envisions a world where information about proteins and their behaviour transforms understanding of how the biological world operates. Fluidic Analytics’ first product-the Fluidity One-helps scientists in the lab determine protein folding, aggregation, degradation, and more in a rapid, convenient workflow that consumes just microlitres of sample.

  • Owlstone Medical: Owlstone Medical has developed a breathalyser for disease. The non-invasive diagnostics company targets the early detection of cancer, inflammatory, and infectious diseases. The cancer breathalyser has been developed using the company’s Breath Biopsy platform based on proven microchip sensor technology to sniff out these chemical markers to detect cancer earlier when more people will survive. The company’s mission is to save 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion (€1.36 billion) in healthcare costs. 

  • PhoreMost: PhoreMost has developed a next-generation phenotypic screening platform called SITESEEKER that can discern the best new targets for future therapy and crucially, how to drug them. This platform has the potential to increase the diversity of novel therapeutics for cancer and other unmet diseases. SITESEEKER systematically unmasks cryptic druggable sites across the entire human genome and directly links them to useful therapeutic functions in a live-cell context. Using this platform, PhoreMost is building a pipeline of novel drug discovery programmes aimed at addressing a range of unmet diseases.

  • Healx: Healx’s mission is to improve the lives of rare disease patients, by using Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology alongside pharmacology and disease expertise to accelerate the discovery and development of treatments at scale. There are 400 million people in the world with rare diseases, and only 5% of these 7000 rare diseases have viable treatment options (6). In October 2019, Healx raised $56 million (€50.6 million) in Series B funding (7). The company’s mission is to advance 100 rare disease treatments towards the clinic by 2025. 

References

1. Information Age, “The New Silicon Valley-How Europe is Quickly Becoming a Tech Haven,” information-age.com, Press Release, March 15, 2019.
2. Office for Life Sciences, “Bioscience and Health Technology Sector Statistics 2018,” gov.uk, London May 2019.
3. Im+m, “Silicon Fen,” immagic.com, Article [accessed Jan. 15, 2020].
4. Tech Nation, “A Bright Tech Future,” technation.io(2019).
5. A. Gale, “Can Cambridge Become the World’s Leading Biotech Cluster?” managementtoday.co.uk, Article (December 2018).
6. Global Genes, “RARE Facts,” globalgenes.org, Infographic [accessed Jan. 15, 2020].
7. Healx, “Healx Secures $56m in Series B Financing, Launches Global Accelerator Programme for Rare Diseases,” healx.io, News Release, Oct. 16, 2019.