Case study: Apollo Therapeutics

Apollo Therapeutics, a unique collaborative venture to speed development of breakthrough medical discoveries—devised by the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and University College London and embraced by pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation—was launched as a £100 million biopharmaceutical company in June 2021.

In 2015, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and University College London launched Apollo Therapeutics, a unique collaborative venture designed to speed development of breakthrough medical discoveries. Pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation were active partners.

In June, just five years after its launch, Apollo Therapeutics unveiled its next stage, announcing its rebirth as a multinational, biopharmaceutical company as well as the completion of a £100 million investment, led by  and joined by Rock Springs Capital, Reimagined Ventures, and UCL Technology Fund.

The funds are supporting advancement of Apollo’s pipeline into development; expansion of its operations, including establishment of a presence in the Boston, MA, area; and pursuit of new collaborations globally. Each of the joint venture founders will retain a minority stake in the company.

Bridging the Valley of Death

First conceived in 2011 by the technology transfer offices of the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and University College London, Apollo was created to bridge the so-called Valley of Death, the interval when promising new research can wither and die for lack of funding. 

The plan developed by the technology transfer offices was to support the strongest projects emerging from the three universities through the most perilous phase. In 2014, the team pitched this innovative translational model to AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation. All three of the companies embraced it.

Finalised in late 2015, the joint venture launched in early 2016. In the ensuing years, Apollo sought the best science with the greatest potential to help patients. By bringing funding and industry expertise together with university breakthroughs, Apollo has developed projects to industrial standards and exceeded traditional development benchmarks of capital- and time-efficiency.

Identifying therapeutics that have transformative potential

Established to smooth and speed the journey from research to patient benefit, the Apollo model functions well as a company. By fostering relationships with top academic scientists and leveraging insights from partners with late-stage development and commercial expertise, Apollo works to develop therapeutics that have transformative potential. It evaluates breakthrough scientific discoveries across multiple criteria, including having a compelling and testable biological hypothesis or having a differentiated mechanism or technology compared to other therapeutics in development or on the market.

To advance programmes efficiently, Apollo leverages a portfolio-based model with a centralised team of drug development ‘architects’ working alongside asset-level teams of subject matter experts. Together, these teams are able to evaluate therapeutic programmes rigorously, in an objective, data-driven fashion—prioritising critical experiments to de-risk programmes early. 

The model allows the company to evaluate programmes comprehensively, while committing minimal spend until biological validation is demonstrated. This capital efficiency allows Apollo to focus on scaling a robust and potentially transformative pipeline, with over 15 therapeutic programmes currently in development.

Next steps

Apollo is now advancing into clinical development as well as identifying new programmes. In addition, the company plans to expand its UK operations in the Cambridge area, as well as in the United States with a new facility in Boston, Cambridge MA. Apollo’s growing team is also exploring additional collaborative relationships with leading academic researchers around the world.

Apollo’s expanding pipeline of treatments — across oncology, major inflammatory disorders, and rare disease — is an excellent demonstration of why funding, collaboration, and the commercialisation of research at UK global research universities is so crucial for the future care of patients, the treatment of disease, and the strength of the economy.

Iain Thomas, Head of Life Sciences, Cambridge Enterprise

Annual Review 2021

The Apollo Therapeutics case study is featured in our Annual Review 2021. Learn more about some of the exciting projects we have been working on and our financial performance for 2020-21.