LONDON - The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) has set up a company to commercialize research from its Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ardana Bioscience Ltd. has #1 million (US$1.5 million) start-up funding from the MRC's venture arm MVM, and exclusive rights to technologies from the unit for five years.
The unit, a leading center for reproductive health, employs 75 scientists, has public funding of #3.3 million per year and total funding of #3.8 million per year.
The MRC has previously spun out companies based on patent families, but this is the first company to have been given carte blanche to access to all work in a research unit.
CEO Simon Best told BioWorld International the #1 million would be spent on hiring the rest of the management team and selecting initial projects for commercialization.
"We are searching for a commercial development director, a chief financial officer, possibly a chief operating officer and one senior scientist," he said. "With the caliber we want it won't be easy." Best formerly was managing director of Geron Bio-Med, the spin-off company set up by the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh where Dolly the sheep was cloned.
Ardana will focus on women's health and says it has the possibility of developing a range of products including more convenient contraceptives, treatments for endometriosis, fibroids, menstrual disorders, sexual dysfunction and fertility treatments.
But the potential of the research goes beyond the reproductive tract. For example, in the menstrual cycle there is rapid angiogenesis, followed by rapid regression if implantation does not occur. "This research could lead to reproductive system therapeutics including treatments for painful periods, endometriosis and contraceptives [by inhibition of angiogenesis at ovulation or implantation]. But there also are collaborations with groups focusing on angiogenesis in cancer treatments," Best said.
Similarly, another group at the unit is working to identify novel anti-infectives in amniotic fluid and semen.
There is a further group working on inflammatory processes in the uterus that are analogous to the processes that cause inflammatory diseases elsewhere in the body.
"Our commercial focus is reproductive health, and I think we may find unique applications for chemistry developed elsewhere," Best said. "At the same time molecules that fit our targets may be applicable to other indications."
Ardana has the rights to one compound, a peptide, that has a role in cervical opening, for the induction of labor. "The effect is to amplify the natural process in a way you can't do with prostaglandins," he said.
"Our task for the next year is to select projects for commercialization. The problem will be in making the choice. I can't say all this wonderful stuff will be taken forward." The company expects to advance two compounds into clinical trials and establish several collaborations within the next two years.