England’s Genomics Startups: Who are They and What are They working on?
SAM PECKETT, 25 May 2023
When it comes to genomics, England and the United Kingdom are at the cutting edge, and the UK government aims for England to become the global leader in genomic healthcare. The Department of Health and Social Care has published a strategy to apply genomics widely in public healthcare to prevent and detect common cancers and rare diseases across England. The strategy includes £178m of investment in research, national health service (NHS) partnerships, cancer diagnosis and community engagement.
Across the UK, private investment is also growing. From 2017 to 2021, private investment in genomics grew from £92m to £718m. In 2022, over half of genomics companies in the country were in the seed-stage, showing early-stage startups and innovation are at home in the sector.
What is genomics?
Genomics is the study of genomes, which is an organism’s genetic information. There are an estimated 20,000-25,000 genes that make up the human genome, which contain the code for proteins. Proteins make up our organs, cells, and control chemical reactions and communication between cells. Genomic research is complex, but has a huge amount of potential medical applications.
In 2022, the World Health Organisation’s Science Council called for the acceleration of access to genomics to less-resourced countries. Its applications across medicine, agriculture, and biology offer an opportunity to make public health more equitable worldwide. Genomic medicine can be used to survey populations for viruses such as COVID-19, and predict and treat cancers and developmental disorders. It’s expected that in the future, genomics will be able to help people diagnose illnesses and predict future health risks based on family histories. For example, people could have whole genome sequencing (WGS) to test for rare or inherited conditions.
Spotlighting six companies in genomics
There are currently 163 high-growth private companies working in genomics in England. Nearly £3bn has been raised over the last 15 years—the top funders are located in Cambridge, with University of Cambridge Seed Funds and University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund leading the way in number of fundraisings. In today’s article, we’re examining six of the most interesting companies—in our humble opinion—headquartered in England in the genomics sector.
Want to find out more about the UK’s most exciting companies in niche sectors such as agritech and contech? Book a demo with one of our experts for access to powerful data like this. Otherwise, read on and we’ll dive into some of the most exciting companies in the genomics industry—including the company that has received the most funding, the company that’s received the most grants, and companies that are using technology to create more targeted healthcare treatments.
Total funds raised: £245m
Artios Pharma joins our list as it’s the genomics startup with the most funds raised out of any headquartered in England. The company develops cancer treatments that can target DNA Damage Response (DDR) pathways. By targeting these pathways, Artios’ treatments can destroy or weaken cancer cells. In 2022, it identified an enzyme that is vital in the survival of certain cancers, paving the way for new treatments that could block the enzyme and kill cancer cells. Co-founder and VP of scientific strategy at Artios, Simon Boulton, called it a “potential Achilles Heel for treating different cancers”.
If you’re looking for a genomic job in England, you’re in luck—Artios Pharma is currently hiring for roles such as Senior Principal Bioinformatics Scientist and Head of Pharmaceutical Development. The company’s latest fundraising was in 2021 and was worth £110m, adding to their four prior fundraisings that were worth £135m collectively. Investors include SV Life Sciences, a healthcare venture capital firm, AbbVie Ventures and Merck Ventures.
Total funds raised: £6.98m
Featuring on our list as the recipient of the highest total grant value, at £34.9m, DIOSynVax is a vaccine developer. It designs vaccine antigen payloads (VAP), which are the instructions for a vaccine. Antigens are foreign substances that produce an immune response in the body, and DIOSynVax uses synthetic, novel antigens to design their VAPs. The company uses computational modeling and huge datasets to predict how viruses evolve, which allows them to create VAPs that are long lasting and wide in their protection. In March 2023, DIOSynVax launched trials for a needle-free COVID-19 vaccine that targets wide ranging antigens found across a variety of coronaviruses, meaning it should still be effective against future mutations.
A University of Cambridge spinout in 2017, they’ve since received six grants as well as three fundraisings worth £6.98m. Investment has come from the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund as well as undisclosed investors.
Total funds raised: £7.8m
RNA therapeutics are treatments that use RNA to inform cells what proteins to build, what genes to turn on and off, and to support with chemical reactions. Currently, RNA is difficult to safely deliver into cells. Sixfold is working to fix that. In 2021, the company received funding for £7.8m to support its efforts in allowing RNA therapeutics to target parts of the body outside of the liver. If successful, they could open up RNA therapeutics to a much wider set of use cases. The company is actively hiring—it encourages open applications which will be reviewed when a new position is available.
Notably, Sixfold has attended four accelerators, more than any other genomics company based in England. It has attended the Shott Scale Up Accelerator, the Panacea Stars, Accelerate and IMAGINE IF!. Investors in Sixfold’s research include Cantos Ventures, who back cutting-edge biotechnology companies at pre-seed and seed stages, Lombard and YCombinator, whose portfolio includes Stripe, Airbnb and Twitch.
Total funds raised: £44.9m
Featured on more high growth lists than any other in England, Sphere Fluidics produce cell analysis systems, which allow for the rapid screening and characterisation of cells. The difficulty in antibody discovery is screening enough cells to find antigen-specificity. Sphere Fluidics’ technology allows for mass screening, speeding up this process for researchers. Towards the end of 2022, the company expanded its laboratory space, helping it to develop new products for customers and grow its team.
A spinout of the University of Cambridge, Sphere Fluidics has featured on the IP100 every year from 2015 to 2020 and The Queen’s Awards for Innovation in 2020. Raising just under £45m across 12 fundraisings, investors include 24Haymarket, Amadeus Capital Partners, which is a VC for tech companies, and the Discovery Fund.
Total funds raised: £69.3m
Congenica has developed a tool that allows for analysis of genomic data at scale. Its software uses AI technology to allow for automated analysis, diagnostics and treatment solutions based on health data, reducing the burden on health practitioners and clinicians and improving patient care. Users of the software include NHS England.
Offering a wide variety of genomic jobs across England, Congenica is currently hiring for roles in clinical science, admin support, customer support, engineering and more. Having raised over £69m to date, its latest fundraising was in February 2023 for £1.53m. The company has also received four grants worth £3.57m, and featured on high growth lists such as BusinessCloud MedTech 50 in 2021 and 2022, Lazard T100 European Venture Growth INdex in 2021 and 100 HealthTech Pioneers in 2020.
Total funds raised: £51.1m
Another University of Cambridge spinout, PhoreMost has created a screening platform that can be used for finding sites on cells that can be targeted. It will allow for difficult to treat diseases to be more effectively targeted. It’s expected that this could allow for development in cancer treatment and treatments for other diseases. In January 2023, PhoreMost’s partnership with pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim led to new targets for Boehringer Ingelheim to develop potential therapies for.
PhoreMost has raised over £50m to date, with its latest fundraising in March 2021 raising £35.4m. Investors include pre-clinical venture capitalist fund Astellas Venture Management, BGF and Cambridge Angels. The company has featured on the high growth lists 100 HealthTech Pioneers in 2020 and BusinessCloud MedTech 50 in 2022.
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