Scaling our oncology firm from a Scottish base - comment

It was good to read about ClinSpec Diagnostics’ latest investment recently, along with some positive news on Scottish biotech spin-outs Pheno Therapeutics and Amphista Therapeutics earlier this year.

We want to be one of the next big success stories on the Scottish biotech scene, says Wareing. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

Like ClinSpec, Cumulus Oncology has benefited from investment by St Andrews-based investment firm EOS Advisory. EOS has a similar philosophy to us and understands the impact investment can have when ambitions are aligned.

We founded Cumulus in 2017 to create spin-out companies that will work to develop anti-cancer therapies. We aim to fast-track treatments into clinical trials for cancer types that don’t respond well to existing options. While our business model is well developed in the US, we are leading the way in Europe.

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Having spent three years carefully curating a high-calibre team and building a portfolio of oncology asset-centric spin-out companies, we are now poised to scale the business and are excited about doing this from a base in Edinburgh.

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Specialist life science venture capital (VC) investors really see the value of the European biotech sector where year-on-year increases in venture financing led to record investment levels of $3.3 billion (£2.5bn) in 2019. Back in 2012, my clinical research organisation (CRO) Nexus Oncology was acquired by the larger US CRO Ockham after I had spent a decade building the company to more than 120 staff and revenues of almost £10 million.

This time, we want to focus on therapeutics rather than services and create something highly valuable and scalable. We want to be one of the next big success stories on the Scottish biotech scene, creating a sustainable business.

Last week, we showed our intentions by co-founding our latest biotech spin-out, Modulus Oncology, alongside a first-rate scientific team from the University of Sheffield. Modulus plans to fast-track its lead asset into clinical development within two years. Cumulus co-founder and chair Alan Wise and I have joined Modulus’ leadership team.

Next month, we will announce the appointment of high-profile industry figures to our advisory board and we plan to hire more in the next year. We have world-class universities on our doorstep and this will help us to grow critical mass for the sector here. The life sciences ecosystem in Scotland is very supportive, with access to grant funding for early-stage firms as well as co-funding opportunities.

Impressive

This has helped create some of the impressive exits we have seen in recent years. The entrepreneurs who have been there and done it foster the next wave of new firms and create a strong biotech ecosystem for Scotland.

Scotland has an excellent base of early-stage investors, but for the larger investment rounds needed to scale biotech companies, particularly as they reach the clinical stage of testing, we have to look to larger VC funds in London and Europe – though Epidarex Capital, with offices in Edinburgh as well as the US, is a notable exception.

Working in the biopharmaceutical sector has taught me that you always need to think globally and, in a science-based industry sector, you need to base decisions on robust data. A strong understanding of market potential, a clear picture of the opportunity to improve patient outcomes and last, but not least, creating value for stakeholders, are all key.

For me, the most important lessons from scaling a life sciences service company include learning from those that have done it before; never losing sight of your purpose, and acknowledging that you need different skill sets at different stages of growth – so be sure to bring in the right people at the right time to scale the business.

Most of all though, love what you do, as this is key to seeing you through difficult times. Covid has not affected Cumulus in any significant way, but it has hurt the cancer research sector in general; cancer charities have lost income and recruitment into clinical trials faltered. The sooner we can return to pre-Covid activity, the better it will be for all in the cancer research community.

Clare Wareing, founder and chief executive, Cumulus Oncology

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