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In your own words, can you tell us what Ferryx does?
Ferryx develops products which contain live-friendly bacteria for the treatment of gut inflammation, such as that which affects people with inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. These types of products are hugely popular with patients with gut complaints, and many are currently available on the market but no currently available product is able to function during active inflammation. Our mission is to develop products which can function during active periods of disease and alleviate the symptoms that patients experience. Our lead product is a strain of bacteria called Streptococcus thermophilus FX856. This live-friendly bacteria can survive and thrive during periods of active inflammation and has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. We have now launched a food supplement (Ferrocalm) containing FX856. We also have plans to develop this as a pharmaceutical product and will be starting clinical trials in patients with inflammatory bowel disease in 2024.
How did you start this journey?
I have an academic background with a PhD in mucosal immunology. I have spent most of my career researching how gut inflammation develops, and the possibilities for disrupting this to alleviate symptoms. This is where my research into FX856 began, with a chance conversation in a corridor in 2009 with fellow academic, Tristan Cogan, (CTO and Co-founder of Ferryx) about why probiotics don’t work in people with active gut inflammation.
We came up with the idea that it is all down to iron. We all need iron, but when it’s released into the gut it can cause an imbalance. This is because unfriendly bacteria present in our gut can use iron in order to multiply, whereas most friendly bacteria – including the ones present in many conventional probiotics – can’t. This means that these friendly bacteria can get crowded out and can’t have a beneficial effect. An increase in iron could be due to active inflammation, stress or oral iron supplements, meaning conventional probiotics can’t function during these times. We set out looking for something that could and came up with FX856. In September 2019 we set up Ferryx as a University of Bristol spin-out company to allow us to take this product to market.
How has Enterprising Women and SETsquared Bristol support helped?
We started Ferryx with a great idea and great ambitions, but I certainly had little knowledge of what goes into running a company. This is where Enterprising Women and SETsquared Bristol have played a vital role, in helping me turn our idea into a business. Enterprising Women was a great first introduction to running a business, allowing me to learn vital skills to get Ferryx off the ground. It covered all of the basics and introduced me to a great cohort of dynamic, motivated women who all had amazing business ideas; this has been a great peer support network. SETsquared Bristol continued this support and is helping me to learn and grow my business skills, constantly challenging me and keeping me on track, all within a thriving, supportive community of like-minded individuals.
What funding/investment have you raised?
We had our first investment earlier this year. We successfully raised £300k which has allowed us to grow our team, develop a market-ready product and, crucially, launch Ferrocalm. It has also funded a trial of Ferrocalm in individuals with GI symptoms which is due to start later this month. Alongside this, we have been taking steps towards our first clinical trial of FX856 in patients with inflammatory bowel disease by appointing a Clinical Advisor, finalising the design of the trial, and developing our regulatory strategy.
In addition to the investment, we have also recently received an Innovate Fast Start grant to trial a new multi-strain feed additive to improve productivity and reduce environmental impact in chicken production.
Why do you think health tech is such a thriving sector in Bristol?
Heathtech is a fascinating but challenging sector to work in. Healthtech companies generally can’t follow the traditional startup rule book, but I think one thing that Bristol does really well is encouraging peer-to-peer networks that give startups the courage to embrace the unknown and find a way to make things work. We have trailblazing companies such as Ziylo to follow in the footsteps of, and the recent formation of Science Creates and Science Angel Syndicate makes Bristol a very exciting place to be at the moment.
What advice would you give to other health tech spin-outs looking to start a business?
Talk, talk, talk! Talk to other spin-outs in the health tech sector, understand the processes that are involved, talk to any stakeholders, talk to AHSN, talk to SETsquared, find your community and be an active participant. Starting a health tech business comes with lots of challenges, but by learning from others around you, you can accelerate that process and save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy.
What’s next for Ferryx?
Our next big step is our next fundraiser. We are looking to raise £3 million to fund a clinical trial of FX856 in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. This will get us to the point where we are ready to partner with a pharmaceutical company for further development. Alongside this, we will be growing sales of Ferrocalm and looking for distribution partners to grow our market reach.
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