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Orbit Discovery – a new spinout from the University of Oxford – has raised seed funding to commercialise technology which will help to identify targeted, affordable therapeutic drugs known as peptides.

Oxford Sciences Innovation, the £320m investment company established to provide capital and scaling expertise to Oxford spin-outs, is the lead investor in the new company.  Other investors include the Oxford Technology and Innovations EIS Fund led by George Robinson and the OT(S)EIS fund managed by Oxford Technology management, which has been making science investments around Oxford for 30 years.
Orbit Discovery will establish a screening platform to identify robust peptide drug candidates for both internal industry drug discovery programs and via collaborative research. The technology was developed at Oxford’s Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine by Professors Graham Ogg and Terence Rabbitts.

The drug market is dominated by small molecules (the traditional, tabletted drugs that we are prescribed for a wide range of illnesses and in general can be used to treat large patient populations) and biologics (mainly monoclonal antibodies that are highly specific but come by injection and often with a high price tag, and that are generally only used for smaller patient groups with, for example, autoimmune disease or cancer). A subset of biologics are peptides such as insulin (used to treat millions of people worldwide) which are highly specific but cheap enough to manufacture that they can be used to treat large patient populations.

There is an opportunity to generate peptide drugs for many more illnesses than are practical with larger biologics and so give the specificity of biologics with fewer systemic side-effects associated with small molecules and treat larger patient populations with highly targeted, affordable drugs.

Orbit CEO Alex Batchelor said: “Peptides offer several advantages as drugs. They are small enough to be delivered in tablet form, are highly specific and have safe degradation products. Recent synthetic improvements to peptides have opened up the potential for discovery of drugs for more diseases, but the technologies available for screening have not supported these improvements. Our technology directly addresses this need so we will be screening for active peptides in a range of chronic disease areas.”

Peptides drugs have the potential to provide the highly targeted treatments of more expensive biologic drugs but at a lower price. This makes it possible to treat large patient populations affordably, and to treat diseases that traditional biologics can’t address. The Orbit technology provides screening tools that support the discovery of peptides for a wide range of disease types.

The University’s commercialisation company Isis Innovation assisted the founders by filing patents, building the business plan and marketing the opportunity.

Isis Innovation managing director Linda Naylor said: “Oxford spinout Orbit Discovery will identify molecules for drug development programmes to treat a wide range of patients and conditions.”