It's a new day for Sosei Heptares
Delight as Granta Park pharma facility opens
The 35,000sq ft facility housing pharmaceutical firm Sosei Heptares was officially opened last week, three years after Japanese firm Sosei paid $400million to acquire Heptares Therapeutics’ GPCR (G protein-coupled receptor) pipeline.
Heptares was founded in 2007 with technology from 2017 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry Richard Henderson and Chris Tate of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, plus Fiona Marshall (now head of discovery at Merck) and current Sosei Group chief R&D officer Malcolm Weir.
Based around its research into GCPRs, a “superfamily” of receptors responsible for key physical regulatory processes, Heptares’ proprietary drug design platform, StaR, is the basis for a new drugs pipeline treating disorders from schizophrenia to cancer to obesity. Heptares has attracted multiple pipeline and technology partners including Allergan, AstraZeneca, Kymab, PeptiDream and Pfizer.
Far from being absorbed, Heptares will continue as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese company.
“The reason we are are all here is the acquisition in 2015 which set us on a course to become a global pharma company,” Sosei founder Sinichi Tamura told guests at the grand opening at the Steinmetz Building. “In 2015 we made a statement, and a commitment, about this move and here we are making good on our commitment. We are big believers in the strength of UK pharma.”
Mr Tamura was followed by Mr Weir, who thanked his fellow founders “who really helped take us forward, as did many thereafter” and said the company’s structure offers “a real basis to kick on and do further partnerships and prosper, but also to do good things, to make new medicines”.
The final speaker was Lars Steinmetz, son of Michael Steinmetz, a crucial early investor in Heptares who was on the board between 2007 and 2015. Lars paid tribute to his father, who died in 2016.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, one of the attendees, Simon Topp, head of European business development at Newcastle-based Piramal Healthcare, shared his enthusiasm for the occasion.
“I felt privileged to be part of the event, where a small set of preferred partners had been invited to celebrate the opening of this wonderful facility,” said Mr Topp. “We at Piramal have been part of this exciting journey with Heptares over the past seven years and are proud to have contributed to the growth and success of the company. The new Sosei Heptares Research facility serves as a testament to their ambition and reflects the confidence they have in being able to develop life-changing medicines that transform patient outcomes.
Heptares’ founders also spoke of their delight.
“Normally there’s a huge fall-out when a company achieves this level of success but we’ve maintained a very amicable relationship,” said Fiona Marshall of her colleagues.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership which has carried on improving the science,” Chris Tate said of the scientific partnership with Richard Henderson at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. “I come here once a month for meetings, and remain a consultant, and I’m on the scientific advisory board.”
In a remarkable insight into the mindset of many Cambridge scientists, Dr Tate said that “when the company was founded there was an option – to carry on with the academic work or go for the finance”. Dr Tate chose the former and is now group leader at the MRC lab on Francis Crick Avenue, where he has worked for 26 years.
“My goal is to assure that the science is world class, which it is,” he told the Cambridge Independent. “To have a startup company that’s survived to this stage is fantastic, and to see drugs go into clinical trials is the cherry on the icing on top of the cake, so to be able to go out and buy one of the drugs produced here will be a wonderful day when it happens.”