AN Edinburgh-based company which creates spin-outs specialising in “ground-breaking” cancer treatments has been backed by Scotland’s state-backed development bank, which has now invested nearly £500 million in Scottish firms.

Cumulus Oncology aims to increase its portfolio of companies and accelerate the way new cancer drugs progress, from discovery through clinical trials and ultimately to patients, after securing £9 million of funding.

Two-thirds of the backing (£6m) has been provided by the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB), which was launched by former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2020 with a £2 billion war chest of public money to invest in companies engaged in three key missions: the drive to net zero, building communities and promoting equality, and harnessing innovation to help people flourish.

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The latest deal takes to £469.2m the total invested by the SNIB in 30 commercial entities to date.

Cumulus was founded by Dr Clare Wareing in 2017 when it was said to have become the first organisation in Europe based on a model designed to accelerate the development of new cancer treatments. It aims to fast-track therapies for cancers that do not respond well to existing treatments.

The company sources novel oncology assets from academic institutes, commercial drug discovery groups, and biopharmaceutical companies. Its scientific and commercial team members identify novel targets for drug discovery programmes which the company funds, supports, and collaborates on. Selected assets are ultimately spun out into newly created companies, following due diligence, market assessment, negotiations on deal terms, and feasibility work on the investment case.

Dr Wareing, who is the chief executive of Cumulus Oncology, said: “Oncology remains a vast and important area of scientific and clinical research. The ultimate goal is to increase the success rates at the vital phase III end of clinical testing, which currently remains at below 50%.

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“The support from the Scottish National Investment Bank means we can both support our existing companies, expand our portfolio and continue to develop the next generation of cancer therapies.”

The first company created by Cumulus Oncology, Nodus Oncology, has two innovative drug discovery programmes ongoing. Nodus is actively engaged in the area of DNA damage response (DDR). The second company, currently in stealth mode, is set to be unveiled in early 2024.

Paul Callaghan, investment director of SNIB, said: “Cumulus, aided by an extremely experienced and capable team, is innovating not only in the science, but in the entire process of how drugs are moved from discovery to later stage clinical trials. We are really pleased to be helping them achieve their ambitions and shine a spotlight on Scotland’s drug discovery capabilities.”

In addition to the backing from the SNIB, the £9m funding round for Cumulus includes investment from St Andrews-based Eos Advisory, which provides funding support to innovation ventures in science, technology, and engineering. Its investor relations are managed by partner Mark Beaumont, the world record breaking long-distance Scottish cyclist and adventurer.

Andrew McNeil, managing partner of Eos Advisory, said: “The Cumulus approach is one that supports the development of a range of cancer treatments, this inherently reduces risk by not placing reliance on one therapeutic candidate. We see this as a really exciting and novel business model, with a team who have the track record of having brought 17 new cancer drugs to market throughout their careers. Eos has been proud to support Cumulus since its inception.”

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Meanwhile, Borders-based Kelso Pharma has closed its acquisition of Velit Biopharma, the Italian pharma specialist. The deal, which was first announced on November 13, marks the first step of Kelso’s expansion strategy. Velit is now part of the Kelso group of companies, which also includes Glasgow-based Stirling Anglian Pharmaceuticals.

Velit specialises in developing and registering “hard to make” medicines which it then makes available to patients through partnerships with pharma companies and distributors across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It has more than 100 partnerships in 48 regions and countries covering 167 products, with around 15 further launches with existing partners planned for 2024 onwards.

Kelso said Velit’s therapeutic focus on gastroenterology, dermatology, and women’s health complements its existing portfolio of medicines.