A drugs company specialising in anti-cancer medication co-founded by a University of Portsmouth scientist and former student has been sold for £124m to major UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Spirogen Ltd is developing ground-breaking drugs which target cancer with warhead-like accuracy without destroying healthy cells. Some of its drugs are now in Phase II clinical trials.
David Thurston, now Professor of Drug Discovery at King’s College London, headed a research group at the University of Portsmouth between 1987 and 1999. He co-founded the oncology biotech company Spirogen Ltd in 2000.
While at Portsmouth, Professor Thurston’s research team developed a novel DNA binding drug which is now undergoing Phase II clinical trials for the treatment of ovarian cancer and leukaemia.
Spirogen Ltd also specialises in antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), which represent a clinically-validated cancer drug technology that offers and the selective targeting of cancer cells with high potency. This targeting mechanism optimises the delivery of the cancer drug to tumour cells and provides the greatest degree of tumour cell killing while minimising the toxicity to the patient.
Professor Thurston, together with Professor Geoff Kneale, Professor of Biomolecular Science, co-founded the Institute of Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences (IBBS) 15 years ago as one of the University’s flagship research institutes
Professor Geoff Kneale said: “I am delighted that Spirogen has been so successful in developing these novel compounds, first designed and synthesised by Professor Thurston and colleagues here at Portsmouth.
“It is very rewarding when the fundamental research we started in IBBS many years ago is translated into the clinic. It gives me great confidence that much of the research we are currently engaged in will find equally successful clinical applications, with a real impact on people’s lives.”
Professor Thurston has a degree in Pharmacy from the University of Portsmouth, an MSc in Community Pharmacy Practice in the area of Pharmacogenomics and Personalised Medicine, and a PhD in synthetic medicinal chemistry. He still regularly practises community pharmacy in the Portsmouth area.
He was awarded the Academic Pharmacist of the Year in 2007, along with Fellowships of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2009.
His co-founders of Spirogen Ltd were Dr Philip Howard, now the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, who was a senior research fellow at Portsmouth working alongside Professor Thurston from 1995-1999, and Professor John Hartley, of University College London.
Colin Monk, one of the University’s former Pro-Vice Chancellors, was also instrumental in setting-up Spirogen Ltd, and the University’s recently retired Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Craven, supported the Spirogen project when it was initiated.