Screening technology that seeks out new targets to drug the “undruggable”

Small molecule drugs are effective because they bind to the surface of a disease-relevant protein in the human body. But currently, around 85% of human proteins remain “undruggable” because scientists haven’t yet found the site, or pocket, on the surface that a drug can bind to.

Posted on: 28/09/2023

This is now changing thanks to PhoreMost, a biotech company based in Cambridge, which has designed a screening process called SITESEEKER® that draws on a vast library of mini proteins called PROTEINi®. The process not only identifies previously unseen pockets on the surface of known proteins, but it can also identify completely new protein targets, vastly expanding the druggable space.

Since its formation in 2014, PhoreMost has deployed its revolutionary technology across a broad range of therapeutic areas, including oncology, neurodegeneration, immunology, and haematology, working with a range of partners in large pharma and academia. More recently it has homed in on the area of Targeted Protein Degradation, an approach that hijacks the natural mechanism in the cell by which mutated, or otherwise unwanted proteins are “tagged” and subsequently broken down and recycled.

“Over the last few years, Targeted Protein Degradation has emerged as a key modality to target disease-relevant proteins previously considered undruggable,” says Dr Neil Torbett, CEO of PhoreMost. “It’s a hugely exciting field, and our technology is uniquely placed to address some of the biggest challenges we face in drug discovery.”

Dr Charli Batley, COO at PhoreMost

Keen to unlock the huge potential of its screening process, PhoreMost has accessed over £1.7m in grant funding from the Biomedical Catalyst and Innovate UK to develop its technology and build out its value proposition.

Getting our first grant in 2015 from the Biomedical Catalyst was hugely impactful for PhoreMost. It was essential for closing our Seed A and Seed B funding. As a small company if you’ve got that kind of Innovate UK power behind you, that really means a lot to investors.

– Dr Charli Batley, COO at PhoreMost

Its first grant was used to progress the company’s lead oncology programme, now in late pre-clinical development in partnership with another Cambridge-based company, Sentinel Oncology. Its second grant was used to apply the SITESEEKER® technology to immunotherapy approaches in cancer – a project which ultimately resulted in the formation of a spin-out company, NeoPhore.

PhoreMost has gone on to attract over £44m of investment, with the latest investment round led by BGF. It has grown its headcount to 50 people, moving to its new scale-up facilities at Unity Campus in South Cambridge in December 2021, and is entering into collaborations with world-leading pharmaceutical companies including Roche, Boehringer Ingelheim and Otsuka.

Neil believes there are some exciting opportunities ahead for PhoreMost. He says, “The SITESEEKER platform has broad applicability across therapeutic areas and can not only help us identify and validate novel targets but, critically, inform us how we can drug these proteins to develop first-in-class therapeutics. We believe this is a very powerful approach, which will help to increase the diversity and efficacy of treatments across cancers and other diseases of unmet clinical need.”

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