Q&A: Iksuda Therapeutics: Advancing care for ovarian and lung cancer patients
Who are Iksuda and what exactly do you do?
We’re a Newcastle-based biotech company that was originally founded by our investors, IP Group and spun out of the University of Bath as Glythera. In 2012 we raised financing for the business which included investment from the North East Technology Fund, so we relocated the company to the North East to commercialise our technology and eventually grow the business into a drug development company, focusing on difficult to treat solid tumours using a novel drug class called Antibody Drug Conjugates. Our headquarters and research team are based in Newcastle while our development team are in Boston, MA.
You’ve recently presented data on a Lead Antibody Drug Conjugate, Demonstrating Effective Tumor Regression. What could this mean to people with ovarian and lung cancer?
Yes, and it was very well received. Ovarian cancer remains a major cause of death for women and there is still no breakthrough to change the current standard of care. Recently there was highly published failure in clinical trial which we have use as a benchmark. Unlike that study, which showed activity in a small group of patients, our drug has the potential to treat all patients with ovarian cancer and it may also unlock a new treatment for lung cancer patients. We’re moving this quickly towards the clinic and hope to be treating our first patient in late Q4 2020.
You are working with leading research institutions in the US and Europe to develop exciting new therapies for the future. How do you think the research intuitions here in the North East compare?
We work with institutions all over the world, many of which are in the UK, as well as the North East. The talent base trained in the North East is fantastic and we recruited for our UK operations from Newcastle. Of course, as well as our focus on taking our drugs to the clinic, we support the Northern universities with their early stage programmes through our networks. There are many potential companies (just waiting to surface) which clearly demonstrates the level of innovation in the region as well as the potential for creating multiple, highly valuable business for the future. One of the goals for the region, and I include institutions and companies here, should be to build a talent base within the North East which can be recycled through multiple companies – we all have a particular skill set so should be building the ability to “re-tool and go again” as and when needed.
You are based in The Biosphere on Newcastle Helix how does this support what you do?
The Biosphere was an amazing opportunity to work with Newcastle City Council and its partners to build a facility which was not only our new home but was bespoke to our needs. It really showcased what the North East is capable of. The Biosphere building marked the regions first steps in centralising its biotech ambition and setting a base for the regions companies to grow from. We’ve doubled our capacity as part of our planning, so as we grow, we can recruit more scientists to our labs.
How do you think the life science sector has changed in the North East over the past five years?
Dramatically. I moved to the North East in 2011 and was unimpressed with biotech opportunities and my only objective was to try and build a standalone company. However, once I engaged with the people in the region it became clear that there was an opportunity to develop a biotech cluster, starting with Newcastle Helix and The Biosphere.
Newcastle now has a purpose-built location for the commercialisation of life science companies and for companies like us. We now have somewhere to accelerate our ambitions and work with like-minded companies and individuals to develop a cluster mentality and build success for the future. Let’s not forget, we have multiple clinical centres of excellence in the North East and one not a stone’s throw from my office. Our hope is that we can develop programmes that not only help patients worldwide, but that we can work in Newcastle to help local patients too.
If you were going to give one piece of advice to a Life Science company looking to relocate what would it be?
It’s a great place to develop a valuable business. We have innovation, manufacturing and clinical talent all close at hand. Of course, view it as if you are building a biotech business anywhere else in the country – it takes hard work and lots of capital, but it's great fun. It’s no different in the North East (although the money you’ve raised WILL go further!) and we may have to travel a little bit further to get across to the other side of the world, but it’s down to companies in the region to create the opportunity and the investment capital and infrastructure will come. We are building for the future – Cambridge, Oxford, London and Boston all had to start somewhere!