GBI Magazine spoke to Dr Caroline Barelle, Founder of Elasmogen, to talk about her Start-Up journey, and how the Deepbridge Life Sciences EIS fund influenced it.
Dr Barelle, a former academic, is a good example of the type of founders Deepbridge invests in. Flexible and ambitious she moved across from academia into the world of pharmaceuticals and successfully rose through the ranks of larger corporate organisations. Her journey is an example of founders with deep domain knowledge and her company Elasmogen is an exemplar of the exciting Start-Ups Deepbridge Life Sciences EIS invests in.
Dr Barelle explained that the origin of the company’s unusual name lies in the equally unusual nature of the antibodies carried by Elasmobranchii, from which it is derived. Better known to most of us as the family that sharks and rays belong to, she talks with ease about the nature of the tiny antibodies that sharks have and the pioneering research they are undertaking in biologics for inflammatory, autoimmune diseases and oncology. Elasmogen has the potential to help millions of people through what is known as soloMER technology, which can be described as small, simple, and stable formats that are amenable to site specific and systemic delivery. We are all familiar with antibodies that protect us, and scientists are now building antibodies outside of the body to create drugs that target disease molecules within the body. Dr Barelle explains that extremely small antibodies like those found in sharks can be used to penetrate diseased tissue or tumours in the human body. Normally these antibodies can only bind one molecule, but soloMERs are likened to ‘stickle-bricks’ enabling the antibodies to link together to target disease more effectively.
The company spun out in 2012 initially under the umbrella of the University of Aberdeen, the scientific hub in which it was developed. They have attracted major investment and put together a first-class scientific team. But Dr Barelle goes on to explain that to progress even the most ingenious ideas in R&D, significant financial support is needed. The company has developed a platform from which it can use its technology to isolate soloMERs against lots of different diseases. They have successfully linked their soloMERs to chemotherapy which enables targeting of the chemotherapy into the tumour, a process which is now in the drug discovery pathway and is likely to be in clinical trials by 2023. To target breast cancer, Elasmogen have used a specific target that is over expressed on the cells contained in the disease, but they are also now developing this product for different types of cancer.
They are also working on autoimmune diseases, targeting TNF alpha that induces inflammation in diseases such as in rheumatoid arthritis, and IBD. Dr Barelle is also proud that over the last year they have identified neutralising soloMERS against Covid 19.
EIS has been critical in Elasmogen’s path to success allowing them to develop their platform and bridging innovation in early R&D innovation through to translation and success. The investment from Deepbridge acknowledges the challenges and the risk in R&D but equally, the importance for Dr Barelle is that Deepbridge recognises the importance, not just for UK Plc, but for human health worldwide. She describes as “eye-watering” the amounts of investment and patient capital needed to bring a company like hers from university start-up to eventual market success. In conclusion she adds that “EIS creates an opportunity for people to invest their money, to become invested in companies who are making a real difference in the world. EIS is a powerful tool to enable us to make a huge difference”.