TauRx joins the UK biotech top table from afar

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TauRx Pharmaceuticals’ completion of a $135m equity financing yesterday propels the little-known Alzheimer’s firm into the premier league of UK venture-backed biotechs.

The financing is notable as it is represents the second-largest sum raised in the last five years by a private UK-based biotech (see table below). Still, TauRx might more properly be described as Anglo-Singaporean, given that its legal domicile, management and investors reside in the Far Eastern city state. But its science originates from – and its research operations are based in – the city of Aberdeen, in the north of the UK.  

TauRx is developing a single project, TRx0237 or LMTX, an NCE derived from the malaria drug methylthioninium chloride, also known as methylene blue, which it believes inhibits abnormal aggregation of tau protein, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The latest financing brings the total raised since TauRx’s 2002 spin-out from the University of Aberdeen to $450m, of which some 70% has been obtained since 2012. TauRx’s investors include Genting, a diversified Singapore resorts and leisure company that provided more than $110m in 2012-13, and Temasek, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. 

These funds have allowed TauRx to conduct three phase III trials with TRx0237 – two in Alzheimer’s and the third in behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia, a remarkable achievement for such a small company. The first of the two Alzheimer’s studies recruited 700 patients with mild disease and tested a single dose of 200mg/day; the second was in 833 mild-to-moderate patients and examined two doses, 150mg/day and 250mg/day.

The third study recruited 220 patients with frontotemporal dementia and uses a  200mg/day dose. All are placebo controlled and are treating patients over the course of approximately one year, and all have completed recruitment and are due to render results in 2016.

Lonely path

The outcome of the studies is likely to be closely watched by the industry as TauRx has spearheaded a lonely path testing the tau hypothesis in Alzheimer’s disease, which competes with more popular beta-amyloid theory in terms of disease causation.

The industry heavyweights are almost entirely focused on the latter approach, either with beta-amyloid antibodies including those in development by Lilly, Biogen and Roche, or Bace inhibitors (Astellas, Merck & Co, Amgen/Novartis and AstraZeneca). 

Interestingly the beta-amyloid and tau hypotheses are related; the former is thought to trigger conversion of tau from a normal to a toxic state, and there is also some evidence that toxic tau enhances beta-amyloid toxicity through a feedback loop. 

If one or more of TauRx's thee studies is successful, the group should have a very valuable asset and would be in a position to reward its investors, be they in Singapore or elsewhere.

Top UK biopharma private financings 2010-2015
Date Round Company Investment ($m) Notes
Jul 2015 Undisclosed Immunocore  320.0 Oncology company with T-cell receptor technology
Oct 2015 Undisclosed TauRx  135.0 Alzheimer's disease and tau-based neuropathies
Sep 2014 Series A Adaptimmune  104.0 Oncology company based on T-cell receptors, public on Nasdaq since 2015
Mar 2010 Undisclosed Archimedes Pharma  100.0 Company focused on pain, oncology and critical care, acquired by Kyowa Hakko Kirin in 2014
Nov 2014 Series B Cell Medica  80.4 Cell therapy company developing immunotherapeutics for infectious disease and cancer
Apr 2014 Series B NuCana BioMed  57.0 Oncology company developing gemcitabine prodrug
Apr 2012 Series D Circassia  56.0 Allergy immunotherapy company, London-listed since 2014
May 2015 Series B Kymab  50.0 Monoclonal antibodies for immunology/immuno-oncology
Apr 2011 Series D Circassia  42.0 Allergy immunotherapy company, London-listed since 2014
May 2014 Series B Kymab  40.0 Monoclonal antibodies for immunology/immuno-oncology

To contact the writer of this story email Robin Davison in London at news@epvantage.com or follow @RobinDavison2 on Twitter

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