University spin-out to advance drug for hard-to-treat cancers

Modulus Oncology, a new private biotech company focused on treating hard-to-treat cancers, has launched today.

Modulus was established as a spin out from the University of Sheffield (TUOS) and is focused on developing a new first-in-class drug, created by scientists from the TUOS team.

This could improve the life expectancy and quality of life for patients with cancers such as pancreatic and relapsed breast cancer.

Building on more than 12 years of research, and with substantial grant funding, the majority of which was provided by The Wellcome Trust, Professor Tim Skerry and colleagues at TUOS have founded Modulus Oncology with a team of experienced biotech entrepreneurs to fast-track the drug into clinical testing within two years.

Skerry, chief scientific officer of Modulus Oncology and Professor of Orthopaedic Biology at the university, said: “Previous scientific research in areas such as pancreatic cancer and relapsed breast cancers have focused on a hormone called adrenomedullin, which acts through two different types of receptor: one which helps regulate our blood pressure and the other which helps cancer cells communicate with each other, allowing them to grow and spread.

“Our pioneering approach focuses on novel drug molecules, known as adrenomedullin-2 receptor antagonists, which are able to block the hormone’s communication without adversely affecting the control of blood pressure and other vital body processes.”

Other key members of the Modulus Oncology team include four of the company’s co-founders.

These are: Dr Alan Wise, chief executive officer; Dr Clare Wareing, chief business officer; Dr Gareth Richards, a key discovery scientist on the programme who will assume the role of VP of Preclinical Biology; and Professor Joe Harrity, also a key member of the discovery team who will assume a role on the Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr Wise was most recently CEO of Scottish biotech IOmet Pharma which was acquired in 2016 by Merck Sharp and Dohme.

He was also at GlaxoSmithKline for 12 years, and during his time there, was involved in a research programme that provided key biological insights into the receptor targeted by Modulus Oncology’s lead molecule.

Dr Wareing is an expert in Phase I oncology clinical trial design and implementation and played a key role in programmes which led to the regulatory approval of six anti-cancer treatments now used in routine clinical practice.

Dr Wise said: “The team at the University of Sheffield have performed some truly pioneering research here and I am delighted to be helping Modulus Oncology take this vital work towards clinical testing.

“Our goal is to demonstrate benefit for cancer patients as well as growing a successful UK biotech company.”

Modulus Oncology is currently in discussions with a number of life science investors to raise seed and series A funding for first-in-human clinical trials designed to generate strong clinical proof of concept data.