Apollo Therapeutics, the collaborative venture among three world-leading UK universities and three global pharmaceutical companies, has invested in and launched the first of its drug discovery programmes in collaboration with academics at each of its partner universities.

Apollo Therapeutics was established in January 2016 by AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the technology transfer offices of the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London. It supports the translation of ground-breaking academic science from within these universities into innovative new drug discovery programmes and potential new medicines for a broad range of diseases.

After evaluating initial opportunities across the three universities, Apollo has approved funding for and launched its first four drug discovery projects:

  • A small molecule discovery programme to treat alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder affecting the lungs and liver, with Dr Ravi Mahadeva, University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital
  • A cell therapy for the treatment of retinal degeneration, which is a major cause of vision loss and blindness, with Prof Astrid Limb and Prof Sir Peng Khaw at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
  • A small and large molecule discovery programme for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, a condition affecting the cardiovascular system, with Prof Martin Wilkins and Prof Lan Zhao, Imperial College London
  • A project to enhance the efficacy and persistence of autologous and in vivo T-cell therapies, with Prof Randall Johnson, University of Cambridge

These initial projects represent novel and compelling drug discovery programmes, emerging from academic research in areas of high medical need for which Apollo’s Drug Discovery Team saw a clear route to value creation. A total of £8.5m has been committed in milestoned project plans.Two further projects are currently being finalised, with multiple others in the evaluation process across all three academic institutions.

The recruitment of the Drug Discovery Team Project Directors is now complete with Dr Paul Hamblin, Dr Darren Cawkill and Dr Nadine Clemo accepting positions under the leadership of CEO, Dr Richard Butt.

Bringing more than 60 years’ combined experience to running and delivering projects within industry, across a variety of technology platforms and therapy areas, the team is well positioned to work with academic scientists to identify drug targets and design innovative drug discovery programmes through key milestones for potential future licensing.

Apollo’s collaborative model is working well with its technology transfer partners—Cambridge Enterprise, Imperial Innovations and UCL Business—providing valuable support in sourcing opportunities from within their respective academic institutions. Industry partners AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson Innovation are also contributing both expertise and internal resources to enable project evaluation and execution.

Dr Richard Butt, CEO of Apollo Therapeutics, commented: “The diversity of these four initial projects illustrates the breadth and quality of opportunity we are seeing from our partner universities, both in disease area and therapeutic modality.  The participation and support of all six partners is excellent, in the spirit of this collaborative venture and the unique Apollo model.”

Dr Ian Tomlinson, Chairman of Apollo Therapeutics commented: “The level of engagement with both the academic community and industry players is enabling the Drug Discovery Team to deliver Apollo’s vision of funding novel therapeutics, sourced from the best of British academic research, accelerating them towards the clinic.”