Our final company of the month for 2019 is Sixfold Bioscience: an exciting biotech working on an innovative delivery system for advanced therapeutics who recently received funding from the Collaborate to Innovate scheme.
Collaboration has been at the heart of Sixfold Bioscience since it began. Founded by three young life sciences researchers, the company is developing a drug delivery system for cell and gene therapies that aims to be safer, more effective and ultimately more accessible.
The technology is not the outcome of any of their individual academic research projects, but the product of their combined expertise in biology, chemistry and computational science, and their desire to solve the ubiquitous challenge of drug delivery.
The three co-founders, Zuzanna Brzosko, George Foot and Anna Perdrix Rosell, were all completing PhDs or postdocs when they first started working on the concept behind Sixfold Bioscience. Zuzanna and George were at Cambridge University whilst Anna was at the Francis Crick Institute. Immersed in the strong entrepreneurial community in London, Cambridge and the greater south east, they recognised that drug delivery was a consistent healthcare challenge, particularly for cancer. They also recognised that advanced therapies was a fast-growing sector with huge potential, significant challenges and plenty of room for innovation.
A ‘different’ drug delivery system
Formed in 2017 and now based at the Translation & Innovation hub (I-HUB) at Imperial College London, the company focuses on nucleic acids as a delivery system for cell and gene therapies. They believe this approach has the potential to be safer and more effective than other approaches, such as viral vectors and lipid nanoparticles. They are currently working on preclinical R&D to optimise their Programmable Oligonucleotide Delivery System (PODS) and demonstrate its potential for clinical applications.
Zuzanna comments: “The main aspect that we think will differentiate us from others working in this field is safety which comes from our system’s ability to employ various active targeting approaches to deliver therapies selectively to diseased cells, alongside clever ways to minimise immune responses. In the long term we also think our system will be more scalable and cost effective.”
The technology has other advantages in terms of the actual design process of the delivery mechanisms. The team describe it as ‘modular’ in that the different parts of the system can be independently created, modified, exchanged or replaced.
“This is one of my favourite aspects of our system,” says George. “You can make incremental improvements instead of going back to the drawing board each time which brings the ability to rationally design the delivery system for a particular indication or drug. We believe this level of control in design is unique in this sector.”
Founded just over two years ago, Sixfold Bioscience has experienced a rapid growth and development. One of the pivotal moments in their journey has been taking part in the Y Combinator startup accelerator programme in California. Here they had the opportunity to learn from companies that had grown from startups to multibillion-dollar organisations and to pitch to US and global investors. From this they raised their first round of investment.
“In the year we entered the Y Combinator there were only a handful of biotechs on the programme,” says Zuzanna. “And it’s interesting to see the growing interest in the sector. The programme allowed us to raise a significant amount of capital so we could come back to London to establish our lab, hire our R&D team and start accelerating our research.”
Despite being unique in the technology they are developing, Sixfold are not unique in the challenges they face as a life sciences startup. Access to space, access to talent and access to funding are ongoing and interconnected challenges. They moved into the Incubator at the I-HUB in 2018 and have already expanded to a larger lab space, taking advantage of the incubator’s options to progress and upgrade. They now have sixteen in their team from different disciplines and are looking to hire more in the near future.
“Finding lab space remains a challenge in London,” says George. “And we were lucky to get a place at the I-HUB. It’s a fantastic space, especially as it allows us to mix with other startups that are going through similar entrepreneurial journeys. As well as being beneficial for our learning, it is a great draw for potential employees. We’re very keen to attract the right people to the team who are looking for an academic experience but with a focus on application and the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary environment.”
Collaborate to Innovate
Working with the skills and resources of academic institutes is fundamental to Sixfold Bioscience’s work and they were recently successful in the London Advanced Therapies round of Collaborate to Innovate managed by MedCity. On this collaborative research project they will be working with the Centre for Rapid Online Analysis of Reactions (ROAR) at Imperial College, tapping into their expertise and facilities in high-throughput analysis of reactions to develop molecules that will improve the efficacy of the Sixfold technology.
“The project is focused on using high-throughput experimentation to develop molecules that we can attach onto our first-generation delivery system,” says Zuzanna. “This will improve its functionality in terms of the control we have over which cellular compartment the therapy ends up in. Importantly, it forms part of and enhances our platform technology. Through Collaborate to Innovate we have been able to access the facilities and expertise that we need at this stage of our development.”
A platform for collaboration
Indeed, collaboration is what Sixfold Bioscience has in mind for the future of the company. Just this month, the company also announced two more collaborative projects with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) Management and the National Measurement Laboratory (NML) co-funded by Innovate UK through the Analysis for Innovators (A4I) programme. They consider their technology to be very much a platform with multiple applications and they plan to work with partners to bring it into clinical trials and use for different advanced therapies.
Their hope is that their delivery system will open up the potential for advanced therapies to treat even more diseases and, ultimately, they believe it can be used beyond advanced therapies to help more effective delivery of a wide range of drugs.
“The vision for the company is to become a hub that brings expertise from various fields to make the nucleic acid delivery systems safer, more effective and more accessible,” says Zuzanna. “Our plan for now is to establish our technology pre-clinically which we hope to complete soon. Once this is done we will work on expanding our portfolio of partnered and proprietary preclinical and clinical assets. Ultimately, our mission is to meaningfully contribute to the development of advanced therapies.”