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Dr Mike Anstey of Cambridge Innovation Capital on £40m funding for Bicycle Therapeutics

The Bicycle Therapeutics model involves treatment going further into the core of the tumour than was previously possible
The Bicycle Therapeutics model involves treatment going further into the core of the tumour than was previously possible

CIC has invested in Bicycle Therapeutics' new cancer-quashing drug platform. But the platform is also being partnered with AstraZeneca for its cardio-vascular and respiratory research.

Dr Mike Anstey, Investment Director at Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC)
Dr Mike Anstey, Investment Director at Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC)

Cambridge Innovation Capital’s (CIC) investment director Dr Mike Anstey has spoken of his delight at backing a new category of cancer-treating drug which is “so new it’s almost like the sky’s the limit” after the Cambridge-based investor in technology and healthcare companies became the key investor in a consortium which pumped £40m into Bicycle Therapeutics for a Series B financing round last week.

Dr Anstey joined CIC from the Boston Consulting Group in January and this is the first significant investment he’s concluded at CIC, as well as being “one of the biggest deals that CIC has been involved with”.

The investment made sense because Bicycle Therapeutics’ new drug discovery platform satisfies all three requirements for a successful new treatment.

“The category of drugs are called bicycles,” Dr Anstey told the Cambridge Independent. “Bicycles are different: if you and I were alone in a room and wanted to come up with the best drug we could it would have three components. Firstly it would have to be very effective at treating cancers, secondly it would have to be very safe – that would mean, among other things, it would leave the body very quickly with minimal or no side effects – and thirldy it would be easy to make. It’s hard to find drugs which have all three. Bicycles are truly unique because I think they have the best of all three worlds – you’d be hard pressed to find another drug which meets these three criteria in a tiny little package.”

Bicycles are a new class of small molecular weight medicines. Like antibodies, they exhibit “exquisite affinity and target specificity and an ability to disrupt protein-protein interactions”. Based on the firm’s bicyclic peptide product platform, their novelty centres on their small size, which allows rapid and deep tissue penetration and, because of their peptidic nature, they are cleared via the kidney.

The platform is being developed by Bicycle Therapeutics for cancer trials, but non-cancer options are being made available to interested parties. “Bicycle Therapeutics’ core focus is cancer so everything they do is all around cancer but the platform they invented is not limited to cancer,” Dr Anstey says, adding that AstraZeneca is now engaged. “It’s a technology which potentially spits out new drugs and AstraZeneca is interested from the point of view of its cardio-vascular and respiratory treatments.

“The goose is the technology and this is producing all kinds of new drug discoveries and Bicycle Therapeutics is sharing the goose if you will. The partnership with AstraZeneca has the potential to draw revenues of up to $1bn to Bicycle – if everything goes to plan. But it’s a big deal not a small deal.”

It’s also one which portrays Cambridge science in its best possible light. “It’s a nice twist that the big players are all in Cambridge – CIC, Bicycle Therapeutics and AstraZeneca, Bicycle Therapeutics’ biggest partner, are all here, and this shows what’s happening in Cambridge. All the components – the investors, the start-up, the big pharma – are in Cambridge. I’m super-excited by this – Cambridge is one of the very few players in the world that has this kind of ecosystem.”

Bicycle Therapeutics has developed fast: founded in 2009 by biochemist and current Master of Trinity Professor Sir Greg Winter, a pioneer of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, and Professor Christian Heinis, it has made astonishing progress. So how did the deal come about?

“Well they’re based in Cambridge and we’re based in Cambridge and we keep an eye on everything that’s going on,” says Dr Anstey, “and in the last couple of years there’s been significant changes which make them much more interesting.

“Firstly there are new team members, some very credible team members who have taken the firm from research into the commercialisation stages. The CEO Kevin Lee is fantastic, he’s very ambitious and is bringing in world-class people.

“Secondly they have been able to show compelling results that they’re doing things that no one else can do, and thirdly there is really nice traction with big pharma, particularly with AstraZeneca, which could be called transformational.”

The first human trials are expected to take place in the next 12 months. Beyond that, “it’s hard to put an exact timeline on it, it depends on the data, but it’s certainly within reach.”

The “it” here, of course, is a cancer drug which breaks the mould. So what types of cancer will the newly-discovered drugs treat?

“The potential is for broad types of cancer – it has broad applications – but the starting point is solid tumours, so colon cancer, ovarian, lung and breast cancer. The cancers with the greatest unmet need are the ones we’ll be starting off with. This is where we’ll have the best chance of success. Haematological cancers are also an option: what’s so exciting is that there’s so much unmet need out there, that’s the opportunity. Some investors are looking for a quick flip, whereas we’ve invested for the long-term potential. It’s a bit higher-risk but talso higher-reward – that’s the potential of all this.”

Clearly Bicycle Therapeutics have started to make their mark, and are taking the Cambridge ecosystem on a journey with them. How wonderfully appropriate that these new drug discoveries should be called Bicycles!

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