A Phenomica partnership

Phenotypic screening of massive peptide library to be launched by drug discovery spinoff

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CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Cambridge University researchers have joined forces with Australian drug discovery company Phylogica Ltd. to launch a new spinoff company, named Phenomica, designed to exploit pioneering peptide technology to fight cancer and other diseases.

The new company will combine Phylogica's Phylomer libraries, which comprise billions of naturally derived peptides, with technology from Cambridge to identify vulnerable points in a disease that can be the focus for new drug development. To implement the agreement, Phylogica has signed a formal memorandum of understanding with Cambridge Enterprise, the university's commercialization group.

Phylogica says the spinoff offers the potential to secure new revenue streams that would otherwise not be possible without massive investment and manpower. The company says it is already receiving interest from prospective pharmaceutical partners in the use of Phylomer libraries for target discovery and has initiated talks with prospective partners interested in the capabilities of the new Phylogica-Cambridge venture.

The spinoff will be based in Cambridge, maximizing access to state-of-the-art research facilities. Its mission will be to discover and validate new disease-associated targets and to identify new avenues for therapeutic intervention.

"Phenomica will provide access to the expanding field of phenotypic screening for target discovery," says Phylogica CEO Dr. Paul Watt, "without competing with or distracting Phylogica from its core focus on drug discovery alliances."

Finding new ways to identify targets is becoming increasingly important as the availability of traditional target classes such as kinases is diminishing, making it more difficult to develop new drugs without considerable competition and the need to navigate an increasingly complex patent landscape. Phenotypic screening provides a way to discover new drugs and new drug targets by screening directly for desired biological effects (such as killing of cancer cells or microorganisms). This approach was how many successful drugs such as penicillin were discovered, but has not been compatible with traditional peptide libraries, due to their lack of structural diversity and low hit rates, Phylogica contends.
The move follows extensive collaboration in the area of target discovery and validation with the molecular therapeutics program directed by Prof. Ashok Venkitaraman at the Hutchison/Medical Research Council (MRC) Research Centre in Cambridge.

"We have shown that the enormous structural diversity of Phylomer libraries can be harnessed in phenotypic screens that can identify and validate new targets for drug discovery with high efficiency," he says. "Now that we've proven the concept, leading U.K. technology investors are showing interest in our work with Phylogica, which has prompted us to create Phenomica to accelerate our pursuit of the opportunity."

The Cambridge and Phylogica research partners have reported that phenotypic screening of Phylomer libraries against biological pathways associated with the development of cancer resulted in exceptional hit rates for modulating these pathways and hence a better understanding of the disease process and how to block it. Since then, intense work on the technology by the Cambridge-based team has established that this novel application of Phylogica's libraries can be used more broadly as a tool to identify and validate disease-relevant biological targets for drug discovery.

Phylomer peptides are derived from biodiverse natural sequences, which have evolved naturally to form stable structures that can bind tightly and specifically to disease-associated target proteins, both inside and outside cells. According to the company, suitable targets for blockade by Phylomers include protein interactions that promote multiple diseases, such as infectious diseases, cancer, autoimmunity and heart disease. Phylomer peptides can have drug-like properties, including specificity, potency and thermal stability, and are capable of being produced by synthetic or recombinant manufacturing processes. Phylomer peptides are also readily formulated for administration by a number of means, including parenteral or intranasal delivery approaches.

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