University of Dundee researchers hope to turn their spinout venture into a biotech company worth hundreds of millions of pounds by helping to treat people with eczema, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
In4Derm Ltd is an innovative drug discovery company developing the next generation of topical and oral therapies for widespread inflammatory conditions, including eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. It has attracted over £2 million in pre-company grants and investment and was recognised as Scotland’s top spinout opportunity for 2020 when it took top prize at the 2019 Converge Awards.
The company was founded by Dr Andrew Woodland and Dr Mark Bell, medicinal chemists at the University’s School of Life Sciences and will be led by experienced biotech entrepreneur Dr Tim Sparey as CEO. In4Derm will employ four staff initially, with plans to expand significantly as it moves towards its goal of making safe and effective anti-inflammatory drugs available for patients.
Steroid creams are frequently prescribed for skin diseases, but these can cause serious side effects as well as proving inadequate to bring diseases such as psoriasis and eczema under control. Patients may then be referred for more intensive treatment, which could include pills or injections. Many treatments are not suitable for children, who are also more likely to suffer from eczema than adults.
As a result, there is a significant unmet need for new treatments for these diseases, and In4Derm has identified a new approach that they hope to bring into clinical trials in the next few years.
“The issue is that steroid creams and available oral treatments are not suitable for long term treatment of eczema in adults and many children with eczema are undertreated due to safety concerns, which is distressing for them and their parents,” said Dr Woodland.
“We have discovered two promising prototype drugs that we will now refine before progressing through into clinical trials. One is a pill and the other is a non-steroid cream. The work we have carried out to this point suggests our cream could be superior both in terms of safety and efficacy than current creams, whilst the pill seems to be safer than existing systemic treatment.
“Across the world there are lots of drugs in development for eczema but we are the first to target this particular mechanism, which we believe will be safer and more effective, offering the benefits of steroids without the risk.”
In4Derm combines Dundee’s excellence in molecular science with its world-leading drug discovery expertise. The company will initially be funded through a variety of sources, including support from Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spin-out Programme (HGSP). Scottish Enterprise will continue to work with In4Derm on an ongoing basis via its High Growth Ventures team.
Abigail Lyons, HGSP programme manager at Scottish Enterprise, said, “It’s great to see the fantastic progress In4Derm has made over the 3 years that our High Growth Spin-out Programme has supported its commercial and technical development, including our recent investment of a £200,000 convertible loan. We look forward to seeing the company’s continued growth and to exploring how we can work together in the future.”
The HGSP supports the commercialisation of leading-edge technologies emerging from Scotland's universities, research institutes and NHS Boards. It helps researchers to export their ideas and inventions from the lab to the global marketplace.
Dr Woodland was named Scotland’s top entrepreneurial academic last year when he received the top prize of £78,000 in the Converge Challenge category at the Converge 2019 Awards final.
Converge is Scotland’s largest company creation programme designed for staff, students and recent graduates across all Scottish universities. Since launching in 2011, the programme has trained hundreds of aspiring academic entrepreneurs and supported around 225 businesses, with a survival rate of above 80%.