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New biotech company Morphogen-IX gains funding for potentially transformative therapy

Morphogen-IX, a new Cambridge-based biotech company, has gained seed funding to develop a new treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) that directly targets the major pathway implicated in human genetic studies.

This potential treatment is based on the culmination of 15 years of work by Professor Nick Morrell and his team at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and has the potential to provide the first disease-modifying approach to this serious, life-limiting condition.

PAH affects about 6,500 people in the UK, mostly women in their 30s, though it can affect people of any age, and is caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels that lead from the heart to the lungs.  As these arteries narrow, it becomes harder for the heart to pump blood through to the lungs, leading to breathlessness and heart failure.  Current therapies may alleviate some of the symptoms but there are no medical options that modify the course or outcome of the disease.  Given the relatively young average age of diagnosis and the high mortality rate associated with PAH, it has a devastating impact on both sufferers and their families.

Prof Nicholas Morrell

Professor Morrell (pictured left) leads the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Cambridge and is the Research Director of the National Pulmonary Hypertension Service at Papworth Hospital.

Morphogen-IX has worked closely with BHF and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, to license the intellectual property arising from Professor Morrell’s research.

As a result, Morphogen-IX has raised £1.5m in seed funding, led by Index Ventures, along with Cambridge Innovation Capital and Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds.

The company now intends to confirm the best drug candidate to take forward into full development.

Professor Morrell said: “We are delighted that our BHF funded research has led to the discovery of a new potential treatment for this rare but important disease.  Our new company, Morphogen-IX, is the most efficient vehicle to take this exciting approach forward rapidly into clinical development.”

Confocal image of a diseased pulmonary artery
Confocal image of a diseased pulmonary artery

Dr Andrew Walsh, Technology Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, added: “I am very happy with the establishment of Morphogen-IX.  PAH is a devastating disease and this company will be solely dedicated to developing a therapy that will, for the first time, tackle the disease itself rather than attempt to manage the symptoms.”

Robert Tansley for webDr Robert Tansley (pictured right), Investment Director at Cambridge Innovation Capital, said: “The creation of Morphogen-IX represents another exciting opportunity to translate world-leading science conducted in Cambridge into a novel treatment that has the potential to bring benefit for this serious condition.  We are pleased to be making our first co-investment with Index Ventures and to be working again with Cambridge Enterprise to help fund a young organisation with great potential.”

The Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, Professor Jeremy Pearson, comments: “There is a clear and urgent need for an effective treatment for PAH that means people don’t need a transplant.  If clinical trials prove positive, this research will lead to substantial benefits for patients with this horrible disease.

“A major challenge for medical research is to take promising discoveries from the lab into clinical trials.  This investment will help build on the progress at Cambridge made possible by donations to the BHF.”

©2015 Holdsworth Associates