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Grants Flow Freely in Europe; Biomedical Catalyst Leads Way

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By Nuala Moran
Staff Writer

LONDON – There's been a summer bonanza of grants for European biotechs, with awards from different sources to fund projects ranging from early stage academic collaborations to running Phase II trials.

In the biggest single slug of funding, £25.9 million (US$40.1 million) was awarded to 29 companies and five universities through the UK government's £180 million Biomedical Catalyst fund. Winners of awards included Summit Corp. plc, which won £2.4 million to support clinical development of its utrophin modulator, SMTC1100, for treating Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, and Autifony Therapeutics Ltd., which was awarded £1.9 million to work with academic collaborators on the discovery of modulators of the Kv3 potassium channel, as potential treatments for schizophrenia.

A previous winner of two Biomedical Catalyst grants, Reneuron plc won a further award from another UK government fund, the Supporting Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapies Competition, which is run by the UK's innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). Reneuron was awarded £1.5 million to part-fund the Phase II trial of Ren001, a stem cell therapy for treating the after-effects of stroke, which is due to start later this year.

Another winner in this competition was Videregen Ltd., which secured £2 million to work with academic collaborators on the development of replacement tracheas based on acellular scaffolds populated with a patient's stem cells and epithelial cells.

Reneuron and Videregen were two of 16 companies receiving grants totaling £21.3 million from three TSB funding streams.

The grant tap also has been turned on by the European Union's Framework Programme 7. Among awards announced over the past week, Prosensa Holdings NV was awarded €6 million (US$8 million) for clinical development of PRO045, an exon-skipping construct for treating Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. The grant will support Prosensa and a consortium of academic experts to complete a Phase I/II dose-escalating safety study, which started earlier this year. Skipping exon 45 of the dystrophin gene could provide a potential treatment for eight percent of Duchenne patients.

Meanwhile, Epistem plc won €1 .5 million for a three-year program of research to develop point-of-care diagnostics for hepatitis C. This is part of a €6 million project in which a consortium of companies and academics will integrate genetic and protein biomarkers, providing diagnostics for making decisions to treat, selection of therapy and monitoring treatment response, in this chronic infection.

At the same time, vaccines specialist Iqur Ltd. was awarded €5 million from Framework Programme 7 to lead a European consortium focused on the development of a universal flu vaccine and Telormedix SA announced it is to lead a €1.77 million project consortium that will develop and test nanoparticle formulations of the company's Toll-like receptor 7 agonist TMX-302 in the treatment of psoriasis.

An analysis carried out by the UK Bioindustry Association (BIA) and published to coincide with the announcement of the Biomedical Catalyst's third round of grants showed that £70 million of private capital has been pulled into projects that have won backing from the Biomedical Catalyst. The three tranches of grants awarded to date are now supporting company-led projects worth £150 million.

The projects are in a wide range of therapeutic areas and run along the discovery and development pipeline. Steve Bates, CEO of the BIA, said the Biomedical Catalyst is speeding product development. "Having the scheme as an investor in your company de-risks your ideas for other investors," he said.

The Biomedical Catalyst is succeeding in its aim of providing a funding ladder from early stage research to commercialization, according to John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, joint manager of the fund. A number of feasibility studies are coming to fruition and will be ready to apply for further funding in the fourth round of Biomedical Catalyst grants, which is now open for applications. That shows the fund, "is fulfilling its goal of providing seamless support from early research in universities through to commercialization by small and medium enterprises," Savill said.