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The inflammatory diseases company’s rapid ascent and exit underscores the importance of friendships, partnerships and networks in innovation.

University of Oxford © Oxford University Images / Greg Smolonski

MiroBio, an Oxford biotech spinout focused on therapeutics for inflammatory diseases, is set to be acquired by global biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences following the completion of a deal worth approximately £332m (USD$405m).

With its journey from spinning out to exit taking three years, the MiroBio team has delivered one of the fastest exits for an Oxford spinout. Underpinning its development is over 15 years of Oxford research into a fundamental principle of immune cell signalling called Kinetic-Segregation, discovered by Professor Simon Davis from the Radcliffe Department of Medicine and co-developed with Professor Richard Cornall, the Nuffield Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Nuffield Department of Medicine.

'Once the mechanism was established it was clear we could develop antibodies that could activate inhibitory ‘checkpoint’ receptors, which exist in a wide variety of different forms on white blood cells, in order to treat human diseases involving transplant rejection, allergy, inflammation and autoimmunity. These diseases have a devastating impact on people’s lives around the world every day. Accelerating clinical trials and ultimately developing life-saving drugs will make a major difference for patients,' said Professor Davis.

This research paved the way for the development of MiroBio’s proprietary discovery platform, I-ReSToRE (REceptor Selection and Targeting to Reinstate immune Equilibrium), and the company’s portfolio of immune inhibitory receptor agonists, both of which form the core of the deal with Gilead. MiroBio’s lead investigational antibody, MB272, entered Phase I trials this week, with the first patient dosed on 2 August. The antibody targets T, B and dendritic cells with the goal of blocking their activation and suppressing inflammatory immune responses. Through I-ReSToRE, which supports the identification and development of therapeutics for inflammatory diseases, both MiroBio and Gilead anticipate identifying and advancing further agonists.

Launched in 2019, MiroBio was co-founded by Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE), an independent investment company backing Oxford spinouts, Tim Funnell, OSE’s Entrepreneur in Residence at the time, and Samsara BioCapital, a US venture capital firm, working closely with MiroBio’s scientific founders.

MiroBio has since developed as one of Oxford’s most promising university spinout companies, quickly outgrowing its first home at Oxford’s BioEscalator site and moving to its current home on the Oxford Science Park. This remarkable growth has been made possible not just because of the idea behind the company, but also the strong, collaborative network of partnerships upon which the company has been built.

'The creation of MiroBio came through a series of friendships and partnerships, and benefitted from the rapidly evolving biotech ecosystem in Oxford, including the funding environment that has been created here,' said Professor Cornall.

Conversations between Davis, Cornall and Srini Akkaraju, a colleague of Cornall’s from his time at Stanford, helped to initiate the company. Founder of Samsara BioCapital, Akkaraju arranged the introduction to an old friend and colleague Eliot Charles, another life sciences-focused venture capitalist who had recently moved to the UK and then came on board as the company’s launch CEO and later its Chair. At the same time, OSE’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Tim Funnell, threw himself into the day-to-day challenge of setting up MiroBio, leaving OSE to become its VP of Operations.

The company received support from Oxford University Innovation’s (OUI) Dr. Matt Carpenter and Dr. Benedicte Menn, who protected MiroBio’s assets, provided initial funding, and represented the professors in negotiations.

OSE and Samsara helped structure and co-lead MiroBio’s Series A, which was joined by the international life sciences investors SR One and Advent Life Sciences, raising £27m – a significant sum for a young spinout.

'The final key piece of the jigsaw was Chris Paluch,' added Professor Davis, 'He developed several of the assets with us and decided to leave his specialist clinical training and join MiroBio as a co-founder, where he has led its basic research and drug discovery programmes.'

Speaking on the deal, Eliot Charles, Chair of MiroBio, said: 'MiroBio has a deep understanding of checkpoint receptor signalling and a proprietary approach to select and generate superior agonist antibodies. Combining this with Gilead’s drug development and therapeutic area expertise will allow us to fully explore the potential of checkpoint agonist antibodies for patients with autoimmune disease.'

For Chas Bountra, Pro Vice Chancellor for Innovation at Oxford University, the origins, rapid development and exit of MiroBio underlines the potential of Oxford’s innovation ecosystem to deliver game-changing innovation from world-class ideas.

'MiroBio was founded by two of our most brilliant academics, supported by fabulous colleagues in OUI, OSE and other investment companies,' added Professor Bountra. 'This new partnership with a highly innovative global pharma company is going to accelerate new life changing therapies for millions of patients. This is yet another illustration of the broad, vibrant, and growing innovation ecosystem surrounding this great university. This exciting story will undoubtedly inspire many more of our researchers and students. I know the founders are already thinking about the next big healthcare problem.'

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