In the past year, in the midst of the pandemic, the 72-year-old British life science entrepreneur and drug discovery scientist Harry Finch pursued initial funding for the development of a scientific idea that he found too extraordinary not to investigate.
In late 2020, the search ended as BioInnovation Institute funded Harry Finch’ start-up Kesmalea Therapeutics with a convertible loan of EUR 470K. In the coming 18 months, Harry Finch will work on the development of an alternative approach for therapeutics with PROTAC-like actions.
“As a novel approach, PROTACs have gained great interest from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, but their non-standard molecule properties remain a challenge for drug design and delivery. BII will support Kesmalea Therapeutics in its early development of a technology platform for the accelerated discovery of novel drug candidates”, says Maria Henriques De Jesus, Business Developer at BII.
Harry Finch has worked in drug discovery and development since 1976 and spent more than 20 years at GSK, latterly as Director of Chemistry. Here, he was the co-inventor of the successful asthma drug salmeterol – Serevent. Since 2001, he has worked in several biotech companies and he is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the cancer therapy company MetaboMed and a non-executive director of C4X Discovery.
We asked Harry Finch a few questions about his work in Kesmalea Therapeutics.
What scientific discovery have you made?
Often small molecule medicines are used to prevent the action of a protein that causes a disease. This is accomplished by designing an inhibitor to stop the protein from working. However, in the past 15 years, we have seen a different paradigm. Instead of just preventing the protein from working you instead seek to facilitate the destruction of the protein, which has the potential of substantially improving the efficacy. This strategy has already been flagged by the pharmaceutical industry to have enormous potential and can revolutionize the way we treat several diseases, from cancers to neurodegenerative disorders.
However, the challenge is that the molecules used for this approach, PROTACs, are approximately two-three times the size of a normal molecule which makes it extremely difficult to use as oral medicines. It is a huge downside and something biotech and big pharma have been trying to solve for the past years. I have conceived an idea designed to solve this problem.
How far have you come in the development?
The work is in its infancy. It was quite difficult to raise the initial seed funds needed to generate data as my proposals were based only on a concept along with supporting background information. I have spoken to several investors that were very keen on the idea, but in the end, most preferred to wait until a strong data package was available. I’m obviously grateful that BII was willing to take the risk. The funding from BII will allow Kesmalea Therapeutics to perform a set of proof of concept studies, giving us a unique opportunity to realizing this idea. It has been a long process to get to here and I have been asked many times “why I am going through with this at the age of 72”, but my answer is that I could not live with myself not knowing whether or not my idea works.
How did you come across BII in your search for funding?
I knew BII’s Chief Business Officer Bobby Soni personally from previous work in the life science industry and naturally reached out to him. After discussing the concept widely, I learned that it was too early in the process to get funding from the vast majority of investors in the market. The opportunity that BII offers is very attractive as the initial loan would be converted into a grant if the business idea failed. I don’t think I can express how happy I was when BII’s Business Developer Maria Henriques de Jesus called me to let me know I was accepted into the program.
What are your next steps?
The next step is to build a strong team and generate a compelling data set. The funding from BII has allowed this, and with a bit of luck and hard work, we hope to bring a new generation of protein degrader drugs forth into the market.