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Major investment for Southampton pharmaceutical spin-out

Published: 16 January 2009

Karus Therapeutics Ltd, an innovative pharmaceutical spin-out company from the University of Southampton, has secured major investment to develop new drugs to treat cancer and inflammatory diseases.

The £900,000 investment will be used to advance the development of new drugs to treat cancer and inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, and includes medicines based on Karus’s HDAC inhibitor (HDI) platform.

There is intense pharmaceutical industry interest in HDAC inhibitors, which can slow abnormal tumour cell growth, cause tumour cell death and correct abnormal cell differentiation in a wide range of cancers. Karus’s HDIs are expected to offer patients the promise of a potent and safe treatment for both cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases.

Investors include IP Venture Fund, Esperante Ventures, Drummond Paris and a number of Business Angels.

Simon Kerry, Chief Executive of Karus Therapeutics, comments: “To have secured this investment in the current economic climate is a tremendous achievement. We have made strong progress on a relatively modest investment to date and aim to use these new funds to create shareholder value through our development programs in cancer and inflammation.”

Karus’s non-executive chairman, Drummond Paris adds: “Karus continues to deliver on its scientific and commercial objectives.  The next year will be an exciting time for the company and this investment will help Karus to make the transition from translational research into clinical development.”

The company, which spun-out from the University in 2005, was created to develop a new family of highly potent, optimised HDAC inhibitors that were identified by the University of Southampton and Cancer Research UK, as part of collaborative research conducted by Professor Graham Packham, Dr Ganesan and Dr Paul Townsend.

The past year has seen key developments at Karus, with the appointment of two new key members of the team – Stephen Shuttleworth as Chief Scientific Officer and Ann Hacker who joined the board as Independent Non-Executive Director.  Both bring substantial experience, Stephen was previously Head of Projects Development at Cancer Research UK and Ann has held senior management positions with Eli Lily and Glaxo Smith Kline. In addition, Karus signed a co-development agreement with EOS SpA (Milan, Italy) to discover and develop new oncology drugs.

Karus is currently based at the SETsquared Business Incubation Centre at the University of Southampton.  The Centre provides business support to high-tech start up companies through business planning and mentoring, investment events and low-cost office space.

Twelve successful companies have been spun-out from Southampton since 2000, three of which have been floated on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) with a combined market capitalisation value of £160 million. They are the oil exploration company Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping (OHM), the asthma research company, Synairgen and the fibre laser manufacturer, SPI Lasers. The 2007 Library House report placed Southampton in the top three worldwide for the quality of spin out companies created.

Notes for editors

  1. To find out more about Karus, visit: http://www.karustherapeutics.com/
  2. The SETsquared Partnership is an enterprise collaboration between Surrey, Bath, Bristol and Southampton Universities. www.setsquaredpartnership
  3. The influential research firm, Library House, chaired by former BBC Dragons’ Den panellist Doug Richards, compiled a list of companies spun out from universities since 2001 and ranked them in terms of the level of venture capital attracted. In the 2006 study, featured in both the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times, Southampton was placed just below the world-leader Stanford, but above the other leading US universities of Wisconsin and Washington.

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