Off to the CRO races

Horizon Discovery acquires Hypoxium, launches Horizon Discovery Services

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CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Sharing a working relationship for more thantwo years created some familiarity between Horizon Discovery and Hypoxium Ltd.When the opportunity arose for Horizon to acquire Hypoxium, which had beenbased on the Cambridge Science Park since its foundation in 2007, it proved tobe a perfect fit.
The two companies have been working together for internalR&D and client-driven screening projects. Hypoxium is a contract researchorganization (CRO) specializing in cell biology within the oncology therapeuticarea, and has used its expertise to enable biotech and pharma clients torapidly and successfully progress their lead compounds. The new CRO, to becalled Horizon Discovery Services (HDS), will provide research services toidentify how specific cancer genes, mutations and assay conditions affectsensitivity to therapeutic compounds. The commercial terms of the acquisitionwere not released.
The newly combined company will be led by Dan Cowell,formerly CEO of Hypoxium, who becomes chief operating officer of Horizon, andDr. Kyla Grimshaw, formerly research director of Hypoxium, who is now theresearch director.
Cowell says the key driver for the acquisition was totransfer the service assay development function of Horizon from an outsourcedpartner to a division of the company. This has resulted in the creation of thefollowing business units: Horizon Discovery, for the generation ofclient-driven custom cell lines using its Genesis platform; Horizon DiscoveryServices, which will offer assay development and screening; and HorizonDiagnostics, which will address the diagnostics and reagent markets.
Cowell says there were a couple of primary reasons thatHypoxium was an attractive acquisition for Horizon, including the fact that thestandard approach to cellular screening in vitro has changed little over the last 30 years.
"Both companies shared the same belief that by using acombination of the right assay, conditions and human disease models, we couldincrease the understanding and effectiveness of new treatments entering theclinic," he says. "Hypoxium's experience in this area has allowed us to combineour isogenic cell lines that recapitulate the disease driving genetics inspecific patient populations with the context of the environment they wouldexist in within the patients."
By bringing Hypoxium within the Horizon Discovery brand,Cowell explains that "it allowed us to build on this important personalizedmedicine concept by increasing the generation and integration of new models andassays relevant to drug discovery researchers and providing them acomprehensive range of tools and services to accelerate their discoveryprograms."
Moreover, by bringing these under one roof, Cowell says his companymaximizes its respective expertise and capabilities to drive the next wave ofpersonalized therapies.
Cowell says the new services provided by HDS include a suiteof bespoke assays (marketed as the X-MAN Pathways) that combine Horizon's novelgenetically defined isogenic X-MAN human disease models (or"patients-in-a-test-tube"), with Hypoxium's expertise in mimicking the tumormicroenvironment in an in vitro setting.
"This will aid the identification of how specific cancergenes and assay conditions, such as limited oxygen (hypoxia), growth-factorsand nutrient supplies, affect sensitivity to therapeutic compounds, to supportthe design of more targeted and effective anticancer drugs," he says. "Ourcollaboration with Horizon over the last two years has demonstrated that theX-MAN cell lines provide an invaluable tool for researchers in the search fornew treatment for cancer. We look forward to bringing this expanded offering toour clients."
Dr. Darrin Disley, chairman of Horizon Discovery, says hiscompany identified Hypoxium as "a focused, world-class CRO outfit, and thecompany was quick to realize the potential of X-MAN disease models foraccelerating personalized drug discovery." The knowledge that Kyla Grimshaw andher team bring in assay development, mimicking the tumor microenvironment in anin vitro setting and client deliverywill be invaluable to HDS moving forward."
To support internal research and development that willfurther expand the suite of services provided by HDS, Horizon is investing$500,000 in a two-year research program. The program will add additional assaysto the X-MAN Pathways panel and format these into high-throughput and relevant in-vivo assays to be operated by Horizon's U.S. partner,TGen Drug Development.
In the wake of the Hypoxium acquisition, Horizon isn'tlikely to be in line for any future deals, with growth likely to be organic.
"We are committed to developing and expanding the rangediagnostic reagents and controls available," Cowell says. "Further growth andinvestment is likely to be driven by expansion of the existing business unitsand research and technology focused collaborations. It is unlikely that HorizonDiscovery will be pursuing further acquisitions in the near future as we feelthat we have the four core business units in place."

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