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Light-activated therapy spin out wins first HP European entrepreneurship competition

See also...
-Photobiotics web site

For Immediate Use
1 October 2002

A spin out from Imperial College London that is developing new light-activated therapies for a range of cancers and microbial infections has won the first annual HP New Ventures Competition.

Photobiotics Ltd beat 20 entrants from eleven top European technological universities at the inaugural event hosted by the Imperial College London Entrepreneurship Centre.

The results of the two-day competition, judged by a blue-riband panel of investors, entrepreneurs and scientists, were announced at a special awards ceremony on 24 September.

"I had a feeling we might make it through to the first cut of 10 finalists," said Dr Lionel Milgrom, chemist and Managing Director of PhotoBiotics. "But to come out eventual winners against some of Europe's finest, especially when we were saddled with home disadvantage, is absolutely fantastic! It's a tribute to all the hard work our team put into this." Four current and former members of Imperial's Department of Chemistry are behind PhotoBiotics.

Infinitesima Ltd, a spin out from the University of Bristol, UK, were placed second, with SCYTL Online World Security, from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Spain, third.

PhotoBiotics is developing photodynamic therapy (PDT), a method of killing diseased cells using light and photosensitising drugs.

At the moment PDT is a niche treatment for superficial cancers and Age-related Macular Degeneration, the most common form of blindness among over 50's in the Western World.

Existing PDT begins with the injection of a photosensitising drug into a patient that spreads throughout the body and accumulates slightly in tumours. A non-heating laser light is then shone onto the tumour. This light activates the drug, rapidly producing a potent and toxic form of oxygen, which kills the target. The cytotoxic form of oxygen produced can be likened to 'photochemical bleach'. There is little scarring, few side effects and no drug resistance.

However, this approach has several severe drawbacks, including lack of specificity, low penetration of light into the tissues, low potency, acute and painful skin photosensitivity, and extended treatment periods.

A chance meeting in March 2000 between Dr Milgrom and Dr Mahendra Deonarain led to the idea of targeted PDT, using specially designed carriers and new photosensitising drugs that are tuned to respond to tissue penetrating red light.

"We've combined targeting and new photosensitising drugs to make a kind of light-activated guided missile," says Dr Mahendra Deonarain, PhotoBiotics' technical director of biochemistry, and named London Biotechnology Network's 'Young Biotechnologist of the Year' in 2001.

"An antibody carries the sensitisers to the target, for example a cancer cell or microbe, where they are subsequently activated by the laser. Targeted PDT has much higher specificity for target tissues, higher light penetration, high potency, very little photosensitivity and it requires fewer treatments overall. In other words, it's a technology with all the advantages of existing PDT but none of the disadvantages," says Dr Deonarain.

"Imagine a therapeutic treatment so gentle it leaves no scarring, yet is so potent, no cancer or infection can become resistant to it," says Dr Milgrom. "Now imagine this technology being applied to any disease where cells need to be killed, so producing a range of drug products for any indication. This is PhotoBiotics' vision of Targeted PDT."

Besides Drs Milgrom and Deonarain, the success of PhotoBiotics depends on two other scientists and co founders. They are chemist, Dr Gokhan Yahioglu, and photophysicist Professor David Phillips OBE, Dean of the Faculties of Life Sciences and Physical Sciences at Imperial College London.

Dr Milgrom is delighted by Photobiotics' win in the HP New Ventures competition but pragmatic about the challenges facing them in their search for further funding.

"We obtained a seed funding round of UKP 500K over a year ago from the University Challenge Fund and business angels Helms-Brown. We have made some really excellent progress and demonstrated proof of principle. Now it's time to begin the search for more funding so we can reach other significant milestones and get our first drug to Phase I/II trials.

"However it is a tough funding environment out there at the moment. The financial markets are on the floor and a small biotech company like ours needs all the help it can get to survive and keep going," he says.

Imperial Innovations, the technology transfer office of Imperial College, was instrumental in recognising the commercial potential of Photobiotics' technology. Imperial Innovations initiated the intellectual property protection, worked with the inventors to prepare the case for initial seed funding, identified a consultant to help prepare the business plan, led the company formation process and continues to provide active support to the company as it grows and develops.

Susan Searle, managing director of Imperial Innovations commented, "I am delighted that Photobiotics has won this competition and congratulate Lionel and his team on their achievement. It is very satisfying to see our initial hunch about creating Photobiotics is justified in the continuing development of the company and welcome the recognition of that progress in the HP New Ventures Competition."

The competition's aim was to assess and reward start-ups between six and 30 months old that are already in business in the science and technology sectors. First prize was Euro 30,000 worth of HP equipment of their choice, the second Euro 15,000 and the third Euro 7,500.

This is the first competition of this kind in Europe and is part of HP's Entrepreneurship in Technology Initiative, a three year-old philanthropy programme aimed at helping launch technology start-ups and to strengthen small technology-based businesses.

Each company entered in the two-day competition gave a ten-minute presentation, followed with a rigorous cross-examination by a panel of seven judges drawn from the scientific and investment community.

On the final evening and before the winners were announced, each company gave a three-minute elevator pitch in front of an invited audience of investors and guests.

For more information on Photobiotics please contact:

Lionel Milgrom
Managing Director, Photobiotics Ltd
+44 (0)7764 586925

For more information on Imperial College London spin out and commercial activities and the Entrepreneurship Centre please contact:

Tom Miller
Imperial College London
+44 20 7594 6704

About Imperial College London

Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (10,000) and staff (5,000) of the highest international quality.
Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Imperial College Entrepreneurship Centre

Launched in January 2000, the Entrepreneurship Centre serves the largest student body from one institution in the fields of science, technology and medicine in the United Kingdom. The Centre is focused on research and teaching in the field of entrepreneurship with two principal aims:
*To enhance the entrepreneurial culture within Imperial by giving all students and staff the chance both to explore entrepreneurial ideas and to develop practical entrepreneurial skills leading to the creation of new commercial ventures.
*To produce world-class research in the field of entrepreneurship and communicate our findings to a global audience incorporating both the academic and business communities.
Since its inception the Centre has forged close links with leading companies in all areas of the global business community, facilitating the continued achievement of these aims. The Entrepreneurship Centre maintains the perpetual goal that Imperial College has the reputation as the "Entrepreneurs' University".

Imperial College Innovations Ltd.

Imperial College Innovations Ltd is one of the UK's leading technology transfer companies having created over 50 spin-out companies and concluded over 60 licence agreements in the last four years.
The portfolio of spin-out companies created by Imperial College Innovations includes two that are publicly quoted, over 15 that are Venture Capital/Private Equity Funded and over 30 that have initial seed funding. In addition, there are more than 36 embryonic companies which represent a pipeline of future spin-out companies.
The diverse technology areas covered by the spin-out companies include Analytical Tools, Biotechnology, Chemicals, Drug Discovery, Instrumentation, Renewable Energy, Materials, Software, Surgical Devices, and Telecoms.