Company of the Month – Mursla Bio
Mursla Bio are an emergent techbio company with a unique approach to delivering the next generation of liquid biopsies.
We spoke to Founder and CEO, Pierre Arsène about the cellular messengers Mursla Bio is leveraging to unlock the potential of a convenient blood test, as well as his unconventional approach to starting a biotech company.
Rethinking the foundation of a biotech company
Pierre Arsène has an unusual history for a biotech founder. After attending classe préparatoire and studying management at HEC Paris Grande Ecole – one of the most elite and competitive routes in the French education system – he spent 10 years working in investment banking with JP Morgan. It was while working in healthcare mergers and acquisitions in Japan, that he developed an interest in the potential for liquid biopsy to enable early detection of disease.
“I was fascinated by the idea of improving liquid biopsy to mean a non-invasive blood test could be used in place of operating to retrieve a tissue sample. I could see clearly how it could change the way we deal with diseases, including cancer.”
With this vision in mind, Pierre moved back from Japan to London, set his mind to learning more about biophysics, and was accepted as a visiting researcher at the prestigious Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University in 2017.
With his business background, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he also took a novel approach to ‘spinning out’ a business from university research. He formed Mursla Bio before starting his research at Cambridge, with the condition that the intellectual property (IP) for his research would be retained by the company.
A new way of testing for liver cancer
Fast forward to 2023, and Mursla Bio has just announced the details of the science behind their first product, a novel method for analysing the biomarkers for liver cancer.
The basis for the Mursla approach lies in extracellular vesicles (EVs), messages released by every cell in the body. As Pierre explains:
“We’ve focused our efforts on the burgeoning field of EV biology because these tiny cellular messengers are now recognised as crucial players in intercellular communication. Tumours in the body release information into the blood via EVs, but conventional isolation techniques have been unable to distinguish between EVs based on their origin.”
This is where the Mursla Bio approach is unique – their technique isolates tissue-specific EVs, meaning that the origin of a message indicating cancer can be identified. In this way, they are discovering highly specific biomarkers for cancer. In principle, the approach should work for any part of the body, with their first product focusing on liver cancer.
The most obvious application is for early detection of cancer, as Pierre highlights:
“90% of cancers aren’t screened for currently and, for 75% of patients, cancer will not be detected early. By enabling cancer detection via a simple blood test, that situation can be changed dramatically.”
In addition, the Mursla team sees the potential for their approach – and the detailed information they can detect – to enable the use of precision medicine, identify patients at risk of cancer, and conduct more effective monitoring for early detection of cancer recurrence.
To validate their test, Mursla Bio is currently running a multi-centre clinical study, including 460 patients affected by alcoholic and non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. Collaborators working with them on the study include Imperial College London and UCL, as well as institutions in Italy and Portugal. They expect results from this study in early 2024 and have their sights set on a product launch in the US in early 2025.
They are also working with an impressive list of non-academic collaborators, including Roche Diagnostics, Perkin Elmer, Evotec and Illumina Accelerator. The relationship with Roche began with Mursla Bio’s involvement in a MedCity Collaborate to Innovate programme:
“You can have great technology and still fail miserably. That’s something I was well aware of and why I jumped at the chance to get involved in MedCity’s Collaborate to Innovate programme. Being involved introduced us to Roche, UCL and Imperial. Our 18-month collaboration with Roche was really useful for helping develop the commercial aspects of the business. And we’re pleased that it’s now developing into a long-term relationship.”
As well as powerful collaborations, Mursla Bio have successfully used fund raising to help them reach this point. Pierre’s contacts in investment banking came in useful when seeking early funding for the business, but Mursla Bio quickly moved on to target professional investors and to date has raised around £5 million in seed funding.
This investment has allowed them to move into their own facilities in Cambridge Science Park – after initially working out of Cambridge University facilities – and grow the team to its current size of 13 full-time employees, plus advisors and consultants.
As they progress quickly towards the launch of a viable product, that funding level is set to grow significantly, with a Series A investment round planned for later this year. The target will be ‘appropriately ambitious’ and Pierre is already working to set himself up for success. As we spoke, he had just presented at the Health tech showcase at the London Stock Exchange, as one of ten leading UK health tech companies looking to engage with both domestic and international investors.
A pivotal year
All in all, 2023 looks set to be a busy and pivotal year for Mursla Bio. Beginning in January with their selection (by the UK Department for International Trade) as a UK Life Sciences Innovator 2023, and as well as presenting at the London Stock Exchange, they’re now working their way around conferences to unveil their solution to a global audience. Bio-Europe, ISEV 2023 in Seattle, and Bio International in Boston are recent and upcoming conferences on the list.
Considering that the name Mursla Bio developed from being inspired by Moore’s Law (Intel founder Gordon Moore’s observation that the processing power of computers doubled every two years), it will be interesting to see what Mursla Bio will have achieved in the next two years…