GSK invests in UK biotech start-up

pharmafile | August 22, 2011 | News story | Research and Development Autifony, GSK, biotech, hearing loss, research and development news 

GlaxoSmithKline has taken a £1.3 million stake in a new UK biotech spin-out that will develop pharmacological treatments for hearing loss.

Autifony Therapeutics has been set up by a trio of senior research executives at GSK and starts life with a number of pre-candidate assets from the big pharma company.

These are voltage-gated ion channel modulator compounds, which are thought to have potential in the treatment of hearing disorders, including noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

Autifony’s co-founder and chief scientific officer Charles Large was previously director of molecular and cellular biology at GSK.

He said: “There are currently no pharmacological treatments available for hearing loss or tinnitus despite the increasingly large number of patients, both old and young, that suffer from these conditions.

“Autifony’s goal will be to find effective new medicines that can reduce the burden of suffering for this poorly served patient group.”

In addition to Charles Large, the spin-out’s founding team includes head of preclinical drug discovery Giuseppe Alvaro, who was previously chemistry leader within GSK’s neuroscience division.

Also on its board are independent non-executive director Allan Baxter, a former senior VP of medicines development at GSK, and non-executive chairman John Berriman, who was formerly a director of Abingworth Management and Celltech Group.

GSK will have a 25.4% minority equity stake in Autifony in return for its pre-candidate compounds and for funding of £400,000 worth of development work for the biotech.

Autifony’s other investers include the Imperial Innovations Group and SV Life Sciences, both of which have put in £10 million.

Autifony’s team will work in collaboration with Professor David McAlpine and Jennifer Linden, who specialise in auditory neuroscience at University College.

Susan Searle, Imperial Innovations’ chief executive, said: “We have worked closely with Autifony, SV Life Sciences and GSK to successfully transfer the great potential of these pre-clinical assets to Autifony.

“This is a creative approach to building new companies, leveraging established pharmaceutical assets together with the world class scientific expertise that exists at the UCL Ear Institute.”

Proceeds from the funding will be used to accelerate preclinical development and Autifony plans to begin human trials in early 2013.

Dominic Tyer

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