Supported with strategy and coaching by Innovate UK EDGE, an Oxford-based company is revolutionising drug discovery.
“Drug discovery had felt like an industry that was untouched by the digital revolution,” says Tom Fleming, who is Co-Founder and COO of British biotech company Arctoris. With most drug trials still being carried out by hand, the process is slow, difficult to standardise, and highly prone to human error. The current success rate of a candidate drug, from the start of discovery until it is approved for sale, is only around 10 to 20%, and that figure has not significantly improved in the last few decades.
Arctoris’s big idea has been to apply automation to accelerate the process of drug discovery, and improve its success rates. “We do drug discovery,” says Tom Fleming, “but through the techniques that we have developed we generate much higher data quality, much more efficiently, than human scientists can.”
Arctoris’s unique, integrated drug discovery platform, called Ulysses, combines robotics, data science and machine learning. The first of its kind in the world, Ulysses produces robust, reliable and reproducible data, allowing better decisions to be made much more quickly, about which drug candidates should be taken forward.
Innovate UK played an important early role in helping Arctoris get going: in May 2020, nearly £70k in feasibility study funding from Innovate UK enabled the company to flesh out its business plan at a time when it was a start-up, comprising just three Ph.D students with an innovative idea.
Arctoris has a team of more than 30 people now, filed multiple patents, and generates multi-million dollars revenues in sales, working with some of the world’s leading biotech and pharma companies. From its headquarters in Oxford, Boston and an Asia-Pacific hub in Singapore, it delivers integrated drug discovery projects with partners on three continents.
Innovate UK EDGE coaching helps in multiple areas
Innovate UK EDGE has helped Arctoris to get to this point. Innovation and growth specialists Roope Aaltonen and Steve Purnell have provided business coaching in many different areas, including marketing, messaging and business strategy. For Tom Fleming “we needed to figure out what marketing strategy to use, as well as what platforms and channels. What we offer are large, complex research projects, and a highly innovative platform for carrying them out. But how do you package that up, how do you advertise it? It was a huge mountain to climb, but with support from Innovate UK EDGE we were able to climb it.”
Since first receiving Innovate UK EDGE support, Arctoris has made several new hires across scientific, engineering and commercial departments, and raised $10m in funding.
And perhaps most importantly, Arctoris is playing an important role in helping the drug discovery ecosystem to evolve. As we’re starting to see fully automated, data-driven drug discovery, we’re getting closer to a future in which treatments and cures can be generated at a fraction of the current cost. New drugs can be brought to market much more quickly, too. And as the Covid-19 pandemic shows, quicker drug development can save lives.