The team made up of Dr Davide Danovi (Senior Lecturer in Biomedical and Life Sciences, Scientific Co-founder), Prof Peter Bannister (Commercial Co-founder) and Dr Kristin Polman (Market Research Lead), share insights from their journey so far.
What’s the inspiration behind Migration Biotherapeutics?
Davide : Currently there is a huge unmet clinical need for effective interventions in Glioblastoma (GBM). It is the most aggressive and common brain tumour in adults and there is no cure. Even when a tumour can be surgically resected, recurrence often occurs when tumour cells, that cannot be removed through surgery, migrate along healthy brain tissue to infiltrate deeper into the brain.
Inspired by the ecological traps found in nature, we are working to create a device that gives out a stronger signal than healthy brain tissue, to attract migrating cancer cells, rather than allowing them to infiltrate healthy brain tissue.
Why have you decided to pursue this as a commercial company, rather than academic research?
Davide : There is such a high level of unmet clinical need in GBM that surgeons and multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) are willing to try options that show promise, to improve the quality of life or overall survival rate for their patients. Investors who can see the potential in our approach can help us bring more impact, enabling us to move faster compared to a reliance on academic funding alone.
How important has the establishment of a team been to the continual development of this idea?
Peter : New team members bring new skills and expertise, new energy and perspectives and new networks of contacts. Migration Biotherapeutics started to take shape when Davide and I met within the FLIER programme of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Davide is the Scientific Co-founder, so has deep experience in stem cell technology and bioengineering. I brought a new commercial angle to the team. Now we’re a team of three and we hope to expand going forward as we better understand where the opportunities for us are the strongest.
You could take your basic scientific approach in multiple directions. How are you taking into account the commercial pathways when deciding which path to take?
Kristin : The device Davide described is one product we can develop. Another area we are exploring is using the decoy nerve material to create a drug discovery platform to test which drugs can stop GBM cells from migrating. We have applied for and won an Innovate UK grant for a “feasibility study” to explore the commercial potential for each of these very different approaches.
Winning this grant means that I can spend the next six months deepening our understanding of the financial and societal impact each of the products could have. We can then compare that to the projected amount of capital it would take to get there, which will allow us to make a strategic decision about which commercial pathway to pursue.
Most companies are on the lookout for funding. What are your top tips when applying for grant funding?
Kristin : If you have decided to set up a company, most grants ask questions you should be thinking through anyway: what is your idea, why does it matter, how will it get to market?
Some tactical advice would be to answer every part of every question. Assessors are often given a rubric for scoring, and if you haven’t addressed part of the question, you won’t score highly. Also remember that the assessor probably has some knowledge of your sector but is unlikely to be an expert. You must give the right level of detail for your audience.
What does success look like for you?
Davide : We have taken part in a few high-quality accelerators (P4, King’s20, CancerTech) to help us shape and develop our ideas. We know that the cross sector academic-clinical-commercial space is where innovation can move faster, and we see Migration well placed in this space. Ultimately, we would like to impact the lives of patients who currently have little hope.
What’s next for Migration Biotherapeutics?
Davide : We are optimising our biomaterial and mapping out the trials we will need to try the device in humans. Looking into the future, there are many indications for which ‘cell biology as a therapy’ could make a difference. Our other priorities are to continue understanding the commercial opportunity for our exciting ideas, raise further funding and build the team.