LONDON — The U.K.'s latest start-up, Hoeft Rademacher Ltd. (HRL), raised £6 million in venture capital, sufficient to finance operations for the next two years and to secure a move from London to new corporate offices and laboratories in Oxford.
The company also attracted Sijmen de Vries, former director of European market development for London-based SmithKline Beecham plc, to become chief executive.
HRL was founded on the research of Tom Rademacher, professor of molecular medicine at University College London, into a class of compounds called phosphoglycokines (PGKs), which are extracellular second messengers with effects identical to a number of peptide hormones or growth factors, such as insulin.
Of the £6 million, £4 million has come from Apax Partners and £2 million from Advent. Paul Haycock, of Apax, who is nonexecutive chairman of HRL, told BioWorld International, "This will last for two years, so the directors will not have to waste time worrying where the money is coming from." Haycock said the company, which has 22 employees, will have progressed to clinical trials by that time.
Rademacher, who is chief scientific officer, has worked for several years on insulin second messengers. He has identified a family of messenger molecules, elucidated the structure and synthesized them. A transfer of patents from University College to HRL has been agreed upon, with University College retaining a share in the company.
PGKs are a naturally occurring family of compounds. Each tissue releases a different PGK in response to hormone stimulation. For example, insulin, via the PGK system, directs glucose into either energy production or energy conservation, as fat or glycogen.
If the body is unable to manufacture insulin, as in insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (Type I diabetes), the second-messenger PGKs will not be activated and the syndrome of diabetes mellitus follows. In non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (Type II), an unbalanced family of PGKs is released. Many Type II patients are insulin resistant and have a condition known as Syndrome X, suffering obesity and hypertension, and possible long-term complications, including heart and kidney disease.
HRL believes PGKs may bypass this blockade in insulin response and restore normal glucose metabolism. It has tested the activity of synthesized PGKs in vitro and in animals. "At the moment these compounds are in the last stages of preclinical development for the treatment of Type II diabetes. PGKs are orally active, which is a great attraction," said Haycock.
A second project involves the development of an antagonist to block the secretion of excess PGKs by the placenta, which causes preeclampsia of pregnancy.
Haycock did not want to give details of other possible applications of PGKs, saying only that the compounds are involved in a number of other endocrine and possibly neurological disorders.
"PGKs are released in response to hormonal stimulation, and they appear to be tissue specific," he said. "As far as we are aware, no one else is trying to develop these molecules as therapies, although the general area is known about. However, HRL has intellectual property covering their structure."
Although some PGKs can be sourced from human materials such as placenta, for therapeutic use they will have to be manufactured by chemical synthesis or fermentation.
According to Haycock, HRL hopes to find collaborative partners, but he said the company has not decided at what point it would want to do a deal. He said it also intends to change its name from Hoeft Rademacher to something more pronounceable.