8thOct 2013

Apitope: Developing Innovative Autoimmune therapies

Type of member: Incubation

Apitope have developed an innovative peptide therapy that could change the lives of sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and with a platform that can be applied to other autoimmune conditions. The company is currently undertaking clinical trials of its MS therapy in partnership with a major pharmaceutical company. The staff and services at SETsquared Bristol supported the development of the company, which currently employs 22 people working in 2 countries. 

Apitope joined the incubator because they were looking for office space and infrastructure. SETsquared Bristol was an obvious choice due to the proximity to the company’s research labs in the University of Bristol and its specialism in early stage high growth technology companies. The company moved into SETsquared with significant technical expertise and a small but seasoned executive team.

Apitope grew substantially in the four years spent at SETsquared, and continues to do so, having graduated in October 2010.  They have achieved a significant number of grants and investments, raising €10m in 2008. The most notable financial achievement is Apitope’s €154m licensing agreement with Merck-Serono.

People matter

Keith Martin, CEO of Apitope, is adamant that people were the key ingredient added by SETsquared: “working from home is a lonely place for an individual running a company, one of the most important things about SETsquared was to have other people around to share challenges with and gain perspective on the development of the company”. Apitope was the only biotech company in SETsquared during their incubation, however they were still able to gain from the community, because they were able to share general business challenges and solutions that are common to all growing businesses.

Despite the significant experience of the Apitope executive team they took advantage of workshops held by SETsquared. They used training courses to hone their skills and legal guidance was particularly important once the staff exceeded five people.

Apitope has now graduated from SETsquared but, as an Alumni member, staff still access services, including workshops for more junior members of the team, remaining part of the network and CEO forum, all designed to promote growth for the company.

Giving back

The staff at SETsquared created a working environment that helped to establish the positive culture that Apitope has retained since graduating.  Apitope remain in touch with SETsquared and are very happy to offer their services back, for example, helping on workshops when possible. The return of favour by SETsquared Alumni is common and a declaration of the quality of support that is given to the companies.

Thanks to the staff, services and community at SETsquared, Apitope have built strong foundations from which they are expanding. In the next 3-4 years they will be looking to find ways to provide their stakeholders/shareholders with a return on their investment. The company has a partnership with one large pharmaceutical company already and would like to increase the number of significant partnerships going forward, to bring their life-changing technology to market.

Innovative therapies

Apitope are developing a peptide therapy for autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune conditions are caused by hyper immune system attacking healthy proteins. Traditional treatments for autoimmune conditions either just treat symptoms, or suppress the whole immune system, which can cause problems and require on-going monitoring. In contrast, Apitope is developing potential therapies intended to selectively treat the underlying cause of autoimmune diseases, targeting the specific part of the immune system that is causing the problems.

Apitope’s lead programme, in partnership with Merck-Serono, is focused on a treatment for MS.  This therapy is currently in phase 1 clinical trials, targeting relapsing MS sufferers, a specific profile, encompassing 70-80% of MS sufferers.

Working in the pharmaceutical industry requires a drive to achieve, it takes a lot of tenacity as even once early stage R&D has been done on a drug it will take approximately 10 years to get to market.