A decade ago, Cambridge Enterprise’s Life Sciences team made a strategic decision. They determined that one of the fastest ways to move promising research outcomes toward the clinic was to develop each opportunity within a dedicated, single-asset spin-out company. Cambridge Enterprise would get involved very early on and not only manage the intellectual property but also invest in critical proof of concept work and help build the investment proposition. Cambridge Enterprise found funders that were keen to invest in the single-asset model.

This approach received a ringing endorsement in February when three Cambridge Enterprise portfolio companies—ApcinteX, Morphogen-IX, and Z Factor—were acquired by a newly-created entity, Centessa Pharmaceuticals plc. The new company was launched with a $250 million Series A financing—one of the biggest in recent years—led by blue-chip investors. 

In addition to the three Cambridge spin-outs, Centessa acquired a further seven biotechs, each a portfolio company of a fund affiliated with Medicxi or Index Ventures at the time of the acquisition. Centessa Pharmaceuticals went on to raise $330 million in one of the largest initial public offerings by a biotech of 2021.

The merger and fund raisings have provided the constituent programmes with capital and centralised resources plus research and manufacturing support from contractors, all of which will help them accelerate and scale their work.

Morphogen-IX, which was founded in 2015, is based on 15 years of research from Professor Nick Morrell’s lab at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine. Morphogen-IX is developing novel treatments for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a severe and life-limiting disease that affects the blood vessels in the lungs, leading to heart failure. The therapeutic they have developed, MGX292, could provide the first disease-modifying approach to PAH. Current therapies may alleviate some of the symptoms, but there are no medical options that alter the underlying disease or its outcome. 

ApcinteX was spun out from Professor Jim Huntington’s lab at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, working with Dr Trevor Baglin (Cambridge University Hospitals). ApcinteX is developing a novel treatment for haemophilia, a disease that affects some 400,000 people, including a large proportion who develop resistance to existing therapies. Since becoming part of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, ApcinteX, as a subsidiary of Centessa, has announced positive topline results from Phase 2a of its ongoing first in human proof of concept study evaluating SerpinPC in severe haemophilia A and B patients.

Z Factor, also a spin-out from Professor Huntington’s lab, is developing a novel treatment for alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD). AATD affects around 1 in 2,000 people in Western countries, where a single mistake in the DNA encoding the protein alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT) causes both liver and lung disease. In 2021 Centessa shared the data from the Phase 1 Part B study as the first demonstration that a pharmacological chaperone can provide functional increases of the target Z-A1AT protein.

Having nurtured and funded Morphogen-IX, ApcinteX, and Z Factor, Cambridge Enterprise is excited to see their continued advancement.