A new biotech started by Dr David Lewellyn and Dr Joe Illingworth, who met at Oxford’s Jenner Institute – now famous for developing the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, are pioneering the development of novel therapeutics to treat the world’s most critical inflammatory diseases, a class of disease that accounts for more than 50% of deaths worldwide.
DJS Antibodies’ “revolutionary” antibody discovery platform HEPTAD sets them apart from the crowd, they say.
It was developed to overcome the challenges associated with discovering therapeutic-quality antibodies for G-protein coupled receptors or GPCRs, the largest and most diverse group of membrane receptors.
These protein receptors act like the “eyes and ears” for individual cells making them an ideal drug target for various inflammatory diseases.
Using their technology, DJS has discovered antibodies against targets that have been, to date, intractable to drug discovery.
“The good thing about antibody drugs”, said David, “is that they are ideal for long-term chronic diseases, as the beneficial treatment effects can last for several weeks from a single shot, and they generally have fewer side effects than small molecule drugs due their high specificity”. In fact, so much so that the monoclonal antibody industry is now worth $100 billion worldwide.
Their lead project targets a validated GPCR for the treatment of diabetic kidney disease – a long-term condition that causes the irreversible loss of kidney function and a problem for about 40. per cent of patients with diabetes. They are also working on a programme that is producing novel biological insights into myeloid cell inflammatory diseases like vasculitis and inflammatory skin conditions, as well as being really exciting as a potential cancer therapy.
“We’re working on cool immunology, but it’s making sure that we apply the exciting science to the right problem that will determine our success”, says David.
Chief Executive David and Joe, Chief Scientific Officer, often talked about starting their own company. It was funding from Johnson & Johnson Innovation after being noticed at a business plan competition that got them started but discovering life-changing medicines is only for the stronghearted. The budget was so tight that they prepared their initial experiment in their bedrooms, rented a bench at Heyford Park Innovation Centre, near Bicester, and worked round the clock for a year to get the results. It was worth it as seed round funding from the newly-formed Oxford Sciences Innovation followed and then a cool £6 million of venture capital from the likes of Amgen Ventures, LifeArc, and Sedgwick Yard, which meant they could set up their own labs at the Wood Centre for Innovation.