PhotoBiotics wins new ventures competition with its light activated cancer therapies

Brussels 03 October 2002A spin out from London's Imperial College has won the pan-European "HP new ventures competition" for its light-activated therapies for cancer and microbial infections. PhotoBiotics Ltd. beat 20 entrants from eleven of Europe's top technological universities to win 30.000 euro worth of HP equipment of their choice. Chemist and Managing Director of PhotoBiotics, Lionel Milgrom, highlighted the reliance of companies like his on funding grants. PhotoBiotics is developing photodynamic therapy (PDT), a method of killing diseased cells using light and photo-sensitising drugs.

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"We obtained a seed funding round of 500.000 GBP or 794.000 euro over a year ago from the University challenge fund and business angels Helms-Brown. Now it is time to begin the search for more funding so we can reach other significant milestones and get our first drug to phase I/II trials. However, it is a tough funding environment out there at the moment. The financial markets are on the floor and a small biotech company like ours needs all the help it can get to survive and keep going", explained Dr. Milgrom.

Photodynamic therapy is currently a niche treatment for superficial cancers and age related macular degeneration. The process works by injecting a photo-sensitising drug into a patient. The drug spreads throughout the patient's body and accumulates slightly in tumours. A non-heating laser light is then shone onto the tumour. The light activates the drug, which then produces a potent and toxic form of oxygen, killing the tumour. There is little scarring, few side effects, and no drug resistance.

However, the approach does have drawbacks. These include a lack of specificity, low penetration of light into the tissues, low potency, acute and painful skin photo-sensitivity and extended treatment periods. The PhotoBiotics method uses specially designed carriers and new photo-sensitising drugs which are tune to respond to tissue-penetrating red light.

"We have combined targeting and new photo-sensitising drugs to make a kind of light activated guided missile", stated Dr. Mahndra Deonarain, technical director of biochemistry at PhotoBiotics. "An antibody carries the sensitisers to the target, for example a cancer cell or microbe, where they are subsequently activated by the laser. Targeted PDT has much higher specificity for target tissues, higher light penetration, higher potency, very little photo-sensitivity, and it requires fewer treatments overall. In other words, it is a technology with all the advantages of existing PDT but none of the disadvantages", stated Dr. Deonarain.

The competition's aim was to assess and reward start-ups between six and 30 months old that are already in business in the science and technology sectors. The second prize went to Infinitesima Ltd., a spin out from the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, while SCYTL on-line world security from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Spain won the third prize.


Leslie Versweyveld

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