From ‘a metaphorical slap around the face’ to ‘life-saving’ - how life science start-ups view Accelerate@Babraham
The latest cohort of five life science start-ups to complete the 2021/22 cycle of Accelerate at Babraham may have had the added pressure of a pandemic throughout the five-month programme but all made great strides to develop their business propositions, which in turn promises to change patient outcomes.
The fourth Accelerate at Babraham cohort, CamRegen, Creasallis, Medusa Pharma, Mosaic Therapeutics and Neobe Therapeutics, fought off stiff competition to win places on what has been recognised as one of the top 25 biotech incubators in Europe. Their reward was access to free lab space along with unrivalled access to experts, mentors and investors in addition to a £10,000 cash prize.
This year’s programme started in September 2021 with a week-long in-person bootcamp, with subsequent elements of the programme conducted virtually over Zoom.
At the culmination of the programme at the end of February, the cohort reunited on Campus for a hybrid event to present their business and future plans, together with their experience of the programme, to a distinguished audience of mentors, investors and Accelerate at Babraham strategic partners.
All were incredibly appreciative of the opportunities provided by Accelerate at Babraham.
CEO and founder of Creasillis, Zahra Jawad, explained how she incorporated the company solely to be able to join Accelerate at Babraham, which she describes as ‘a wonderful programme for any would-be entrepreneurs.’
Creasallis is a creative antibodies solutions company addressing bottlenecks in antibody-based therapeutics and has secured phase one and two funding. It’s ‘plug and play’ technology CreaTap improves the tumour penetrability of antibodies to ultimately improve treatment for patients.
Zahra said: “We were very fortunate to get on to the programme and it has been invaluable, from the basics such as what it takes to create a business plan to the metaphorical slaps on the face to get things done. The mentoring has been fantastic and opened our minds to think outside the box. We’ve been able to develop our pitch, build awareness and have been invited to conferences. It’s opened so many doors and the friendships we’ve developed with the rest of the cohort have been an added bonus and we will support each other as we go forward.”
CamRegen, a spin out from Cambridge University, specialises in the manufacture of collagen-based medical devices that could revolutionise neurosurgery by reducing the risk of infections and readmissions due to failed dura repairs. The flexible collagen membrane developed by CamRegen can be manipulated to different shapes making a bespoke specification for the end user and could also be used in wound care, hernia repair and orthopaedics.
CEO Siddhartha Ghose explained how the company now has a clear business strategy and has engaged firms for regulatory, marcomms and finance support as it looks for £4m seed funding.
While the lab space and funding from Accelerate at Babraham was helpful Chief Scientific Officer David Barrett said the camaraderie between the cohort and the advice from mentors had been priceless. “Having people going through the same experience and really understand what you’re going through has been a great bonding experience,” he said.
“The mentors ask challenging questions that really test you but it’s done in a supportive environment to help you develop. It’s a safe space to test your science and business strategy and the searching questions really make you think so you won’t get tripped up later. They are not afraid to ask very pointed questions. It’s built my confidence in how to talk and think about the company.”
Imperial College London spinout Medusa Pharmaceuticals is working to combat antimicrobial resistance by breathing life back into existing drugs. Its technology has huge potential in particular for Cystic Fibrosis patients.
Since joining Accelerate at Babraham the company has been offered £100k funding and developed its drug delivery platform to apply additional diseases.
CEO James Duboff said: “We want to stop people dying due to drug resistance. We’ve found Accelerate at Babraham hugely beneficial to help our mission. We’ve learnt that a commercialisation plan is as important as the innovation and understand that when it comes to pitching you need to know the audience and help them with what they don’t know rather than tell them what they do know. The support and guidance is second to none.”
Cancer drug discovery company Mosaic Therapeutics is tackling cancers with substantial unmet need by reinventing target discovery using the power of large-scale genomics and artificial intelligence.
CEO Adrian Ibrahim told how the company started with £1m from Innovate UK in April 2020 and is supported by the Wellcome Sanger Institute which means they have exclusive access to hundreds of cell line models and data through the Sangar collaboration.
He said: “All the pitches I’ve done have been in my bedroom with slippers on so I’m getting used to doing face to face! It’s been a fantastic programme and we’re privileged to be a part of it.”
Neobe Therapeutics is harnessing the synthetic biology toolkit to engineer tumour-colonising bacteria to disrupt the immunosuppressive microenvironment of ‘cold’ tumours and enable immunotherapies to be used as a treatment.
Of all the programmes Neobe has taken part in CEO Pedro Correa de Sampaio says Accelerate at Babraham has been ‘by far the best’.
He said: “The first stage of company development is to establish partnerships with pharma companies and Accelerate at Babraham has been great for us as it’s facilitated these meetings. We’ve already generated some interest thanks to the network. This has been the programme we’ve got the most out of, particularly the community. We’ve been able to share investor contacts or battle stories. The mentors are generous with their time whether it’s support with fundraising contacts or rehearsing the business plan. Our lab started to close down so moving to the Babraham Research Campus literally saved our business at a crucial time.”
Derek Jones, CEO at the Babraham Research Campus paid tribute to all those involved in the 2021/22 cohort describing it as a ‘great adventure’ he said: “It’s been different for this cohort due to Covid and the programme has mostly been on Zoom. However, they’ve done a great job and have been really receptive. We don’t have all the answers for the companies of course, we challenge and bounce ideas around with them, but that’s a very important part of it. It’s been a great adventure and it’s not over yet as they will all present at the Babraham Investor Conference in May.”
Accelerate at Babraham is supported by a core group of strategic partners - AstraZeneca, Eisai, LifeArc, Mundipharma and Kidney Research UK - which enables the delivery of this ground-breaking programme while their knowledge and connections open doors for start-ups not ordinarily possible.
Derek said: “So many people are involved to make Accelerate at Babraham the success it is and I’d like to thank every single one of those people for their time and enthusiasm. Without any exception when you reach out to companies to support the cohort they always say, ‘yes of course I’ll help’. They may think ‘I’m going to see the next big thing’ but primarily want to support the life science cluster because we all benefit from that. We’re so very grateful to our sponsors and of course there is always room for more to get involved.”
Derek also praised Accelerate at Babraham co-founder Dr Karolina Zapadka, who left in May 2021 to join Parkwalk as an Investment Manager, for leaving the programme ‘in a really good state’.
In addition, Kidney Research UK came on board last year and already the charity, which funds research focused on the prevention, treatment and management of kidney disease, has recognised the value of being involved.
Executive Director of Development Marc Stowell says: “As a charity we are very small in the research space yet kidney disease is a major health issue. There’s no point in running our own programme but getting involved in this allows us to support opportunity and raise awareness of kidney disease. Although there are no renal companies in this cohort we’ve benefited as much as the companies taking part in terms of the introductions to the network. When you hear of companies that hadn’t even opened a bank account to get to the point where they are now in just five months, it’s absolutely phenomenal and testament to how good the programme is. We’ll do everything we can to support it.”