LONDON -- Oxford and Cambridge universities have taken an equity stake in the U.K.'s latest start-up, SenseTherapeutic Ltd., which has been formed by academics from the two universities, with venture capital funding from Apax Partners.

SenseTherapeutic's CEO and founder, Roland Kozlowski, a pharmacologist from Oxford University, told BioWorld International, "It is unprecedented for the two universities to set up a joint company; normally there is an element of competition between them." His co-founder is Jonathan Blackburn, a biochemist who runs a research group at Cambridge University, specializing in molecular recognition and functional genomics.

Kozlowski declined to disclose how much money Apax Partners is putting into the company, or how big its stake is, saying only that the funding amounts to "several million pounds."

SenseTherapeutic will focus on identifying therapeutic targets and developing assays for these targets. Its technology allows it to test candidate protein and peptide drugs in their natural cellular environment. Kozlowski, who has a track record in commercial drug discovery, said the company plans to seek licenses with pharmaceutical companies and will also establish its own drug discovery program. The technology is applicable to a wide range of disease areas, and Kozlowski said the techniques will also be applied to agrichemicals.

SenseTherapeutic is based near Oxford, at Woodstock. The company is currently recruiting, and Kozlowski said the plan is to appoint about 10 staff members and run the company on the "virtual" model, with development work outsourced to Oxford and Cambridge universities. "We will essentially have access to their facilities and infrastructure," he said. Blackburn said the liaison will give SenseTherapeutic "access to facilities which others covet." The company is also negotiating a further collaboration with a group at a third university.

Kozlowski expects to be in a position to sign corporate partners by the middle to the end of the year, and says the company will have revenues fairly quickly. "The outsourcing of drug development and discovery by large pharmaceutical companies is a growing and lucrative market which SenseTherapeutic will be excellently placed to exploit," he said. *