As we approach the application deadline for OneStart 2016 (Tuesday 1 December), today’s guest blog comes from 2015 European winner, Keregen. Here, Jemma Gatliff charts the growth of the company from its inception to the impact of being crowned last year’s winner of OneStart Europe.
It is nearly a year since we entered OneStart Europe 2015 as Keregen, an early stage drug discovery company focused on the development of small molecules with disease modifying activity in disorders where there is an unmet clinical need.
The seeds of Keregen were planted back in 2012, when Nikolaos was awarded a Bloomsbury Colleges PhD studentship to work under the guidance of Dr. Geoff Wells, School of Pharmacy, University College London (UCL SoP), and Dr. Michelangelo Campanella, Royal Veterinary College (RVC). Dr. Wells has spent several years understanding the mechanisms of Nrf2 regulation through the evaluation of molecular probes, and collaborative projects with leaders in the Nrf2 pharmacology field for instance Albena Dinkova-Kostova and John Hayes of the University of Dundee. During his PhD, Nikolaos worked with Dr. Wells on the discovery of novel chemical compounds that activate Nrf2, a transcription factor that regulates a number of cytoprotective and antioxidant genes. Much excitement came about a year ago when he obtained some new data that showed some of his latest compounds were very potent Nrf2 inducers and had the potential to be developed further into preclinical candidates.
I met Nikolaos as part of the Bloomsbury Colleges PhD program and we got to know each other more when he spent time towards the end of his PhD working on a mitochondrial biology aspect of his project with Dr. Campanella, who is also my former PhD and postdoctoral supervisor, and whose group discovered that certain Nrf2 inducers can activate a process called mitophagy. When Nikolaos told me his latest results, I suggested that we enter OneStart 2015 with a proposal based on the development of his compounds as drugs for slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease, one of my own research interests and a therapeutic indication where Nrf2 activation is likely to have meaningful patient benefit. I had heard about OneStart from the Oxbridge Biotechnology Roundtable and in fact I was there to watch Toby, Millie and Rob, founders of Eva Diagnostics, crowned winners at OneStart Europe 2014. Realising the importance of a well-rounded skill-set in the team, Nikolaos and I joined up with Hervé Guyon (Société Générale) and Christoph Dietrich (Bank of America Merrill Lynch), who complemented our scientific know-how with their business skills and the four of us embarked on the incredible journey that is OneStart.
We were ecstatic when we realized we had made it to the final 35 semi-finalist teams and were matched up with our mentors – Ilan Zipkin, Takeda Ventures and David Phillips, SROne. With their invaluable mentorship as well as the inputs from countless others, including Andy Sandham, Declan Jones, Rod Porter to name but a few, we have grown exponentially as individuals and as a viable company.
Our core management team now includes myself, Nikolaos and Geoff and since winning OneStart six months ago, we have managed to grow Keregen’s network across continents, building collaborations with institutions and companies that will accelerate our development program. We are working with Olswang and Silicon Valley Bank, both sponsors of OneStart who have been a tremendous help in all manners of start-up affairs. Part of our OneStart prize has also been membership with the BIA whose networking events have helped introduce Keregen to the wider biotech community and we are now proud to be working with even more advisors as a result including Keith Powell, Canbex Therapeutics. We look forward to the many forthcoming events the BIA has to offer and continuing to work with them to help propel Keregen forwards to the next level.
We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported us so far and we are excited for what the future has in store. The last 12 months have been a whirlwind of learning and I encourage any budding young entrepreneurs to enter OneStart 2016 – it has without doubt been the best experience of my life and certainly Keregen’s.