Taking a look at Irish biotech: Discoveries and deals of 2016

March 25, 2016 p360

Irish biotech

Whether it’s the government commitment to investing in Irish life science companies or Irish investors looking abroad, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to be involved in biotech in Ireland than right now. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening on the Emerald Isle.


Irish biotech “could be bigger than Facebook”


Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi describes Irish startup Nuritas as an entity that “could be as big or even bigger than Facebook or Dropbox.” Why the excitement? Nuritas uses artificial intelligence and DNA analysis to provide access to peptides, the most health-benefiting components within food molecules.


This disruptive approach to food and wellness that uses software and machine learning received the highest initial investment raised to date by an Irish company operating in this space at USD 3.2 million last fall.


Irish investment in global biotech


Dún Laoghaire-based global biotech investment fund Malin raised an estimated EUR 330 million in its recent IPO, which it plans to invest in life science assets over the next five years.


Most notably Malin has invested EUR 73 million in UK biotech firm Immunocore, which researches and develops cancer treatments using T cell receptors; and EUR 31 million (with a commitment to invest a USD 10 million more) in US firm Melinta Therapeutics. Melinta Therapeutics will be in Phase III development of its innovative antibiotic delafloxacin sometime later this year.


Malin has invested in more than a dozen companies so far, including acne drug group Novan Therapeutics, 3D4Medical, and African specialty pharma group Serenus. The UK accounts for just 25% of the Malin fund’s investments.


Irish biotech deals


Founded on the campus of Trinity College, Dublin more than ten years ago, biotech firm Genable Technologies has just been acquired by US-based Spark Therapeutics in a EUR 13.76 million deal. Genable develops gene therapies for the treatment of autosomal dominant diseases, including one degenerative eye disease which progresses to blindness.


Opsona Therapeutics is in Phase II at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for OPN-305 which is hoped will be beneficial in the treatment of cardiac disease, kidney disease, sepsis and cancer. Depending the outcome of the trials, Opsona EO Martin Welschof  says, “We might look at a strategic partnership or at an IPO, it will depend on the data.” Opsona Therapeutics was co-founded by Luke O’Neill, one of the leading biotech researchers in Ireland.


Tipperary-based Valitacell, which describes itself as “an Irish biotech startup leading in the innovation of analytical tools for biopharmaceutical development,” has received just over EUR 250,000 in financial backing by Ireland-based Trumera Advisors and the British Virgin Islands firm Iarlann.


Other Irish biotechs to watch out for include Allogen Biotech, DS Biopharma, OncoMark, Prothena Corporation, Heart Metabolics, Orbsen Therapeutics, Algae Health, BioAtlantis, Solvotrin Therapeutics and Almac Discovery. Adam Wilson’s BioPharm Guy also lists several more Irish biotechs on his website here.


What’s next for Ireland’s biotech?


More growth seems imminent, especially when we look at a report commissioned by the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland which says that almost 20% of US investment in the EU goes to Ireland, while France and Germany have 5% combined.


The state owned Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which has invested EUR 50 million in Malin already, has made a commitment to invest EUR 150 million in “Irish life sciences companies, or life sciences companies with significant operations in Ireland.” Over the next five years, there are plans to make investments in at least 10 Irish life sciences companies that each employ at least 200 people, in Ireland, on a full-time basis.


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