arrived in Turin at the Centro for Biotecnologie Molecolari (MBC) and 2i3T business accelerator of the Turin University in 2008. This was the site of Horizons first laboratories and is where it recently extended its laboratories space. Horizons headquarters is in Cambridge (UK), where the commercial team is based and where a new manufacturing facility will be established in 2010. Turin will remain a crucial site on the long-term as to cutting edge R&D for the development of its product range, joined research projects and exploration of new business opportunities.
Horizon is a participant in the Druidi Project, a Drug Innovation and Discovery Project, led by the Molecular Biotechnologies Interdepartmental Centre of Turin University, co-financed by the Piedmont Regional government using European Structural Funds. Its goal is to develop innovative new drugs out of the results of the basic research mainly on the molecular mechanisms of cancer causation. Horizon will also be pursuing other translational investment projects in Turin, to find novel cancer treatments using their proprietary genetically-defined cancer models.
What is Horizon Discoverys core business?
Horizon Discovery is striving to provide researchers with the gold-standard tools that will accelerate the search for new and effective targeted or personalized medicines.
Central to realizing this ambition is the deployment of a proprietary gene-engineering technology called GENESIS that enables any endogenous gene in a human cell-line to be altered quickly, reliably and without introducing unwanted errors.
Using GENESIS, a wide panel of genetically-defined and patient-relevant X-MAN (Mutant And Normal) cell models have been developed and these are being adopted by academic and industry leaders to find and tailor the right drugs to the right patients, based upon the unique genetic mutations that define their disease.
These X-MAN Patients-in-a-test-tube cell-lines are now being used to rationalize every aspect of drug discovery pipelines; from the identification of more patient-relevant drug targets, to the design of shorter and less-costly clinical trials based upon patients most likely to respond to a given drug.
What are the main activities of Horizon Discovery in Italy?
Turin is the centre of expertise behind making X-MAN cell-lines; developing new cancer models and in the future will increasingly explore the use of GENESIS in other therapeutic areas. Turin will also transit into target discovery, diagnostic and drug discovery activities using the X-MAN models.
Why did you choose Italy for your business? Why did you set up in a business incubator and why in Turin?
Horizon was founded in 2007 by Dr Chris Torrance and Professor Alberto Bardelli (University of Turin), both graduates of the Vogelstein laboratory, the most-cited oncology research group in the world. Horizon sited its laboratories in Turin to firstly be close to the Bardelli laboratory at the IRCC (Candiolo) and secondly because the MBC has a truly world-class bio-incubator facility, with highly supportive management committed to fostering innovative biotech companies in Turin.
What are the main outcomes of the University of Turin?
Patient-relevant in vitro disease models have been a missing link in the discovery of novel treatments that are more targeted or personalized to the unique genetic mutations that define a patients disease type and progression. Only then long-term effective treatments will be possible in complex diseases such as cancer.
The growing need for such genetically-defined models and Personalized Medicine in the field of cancer has been driven by Professor Bardellis studies, published in the Journal of Cancer Research (March 2007) and the Journal of Clinical Oncology (October 2008). These studies retrospectively analyzed tissue samples from clinical trials on the novel EGFR targeting colorectal cancer drugs; Erbitux and Vectibix found that the majority of patients that carry a secondary mutant gene (KRAS and BRAF) are resistant to these drugs (in a combined total of 52% of patients trialed). These data were subsequently confirmed in prospective trials performed by the pharmaceutical companies developing these drugs and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) has now mandated the compulsory testing of all colon cancer patients for these resistance genes before any EGFR-targeted drugs can be prescribed. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) is similarly petitioning for these guidelines to be adopted in the U.S.
Has been Horizon awarded for such results?
Horizons technology and business model has been recognized by the Medical Futures Innovation Awards as the Best Cancer Drug Discovery Innovation and Best Business Proposition of 2008.This is all recognized work from our Turin laboratories and would not have been possible without the support of the MBC and the University of Turin. Very recently, Horizon were awarded the inaugural iaward by the UK government for its innovative technology and business strategy that aims to improve the lives of cancer patients through fostering more effective personalized drug discovery and development.
What kind of support did you receive from the University of Turin and from Italian institutions?
As to the University of Turin we continue to have close ties with Prof.Bardellis research team that is performing leading research into Personalized Medicines.
Several of the original X-MAN models were in-licensed from the Department of Oncological Sciences, IRCC, University of Turin; and we continue to have a pipeline agreement with them for in-licensing new models. Centro Estero gave us crucial support during the setting up of a commercial branch in Turin and in dealing with the Italian accounting procedures.
The MBC and 2i3T were central to our success providing an integrated and supportive research environment; as well as world-class laboratory facilities.
According to your experience in Italy, what are the strongholds of our country for a foreign company? What are the main advantages of investing in Italy?
In the field of biotechnology, the main and critical factor is accessing highly trained and dedicated research graduates, moreover there is a great emphasis in Italy on funding joined research between academia and small innovative companies; which is quite unique and desirable compared, for example, to the UK.
What are your perspectives for future growth in Italy?
We aim to use the scientific expertise of Horizons MBC lab to pioneer new opportunities for the company. The primary focus will be to increase our know-how and portfolio of potential new therapeutic and diagnostic targets in this lab using our X-MAN disease models. We will also increasingly move into drug discovery activities; most likely in funded collaborations with other academic and industrial partners in the Euro-zone.
To learn more: www.horizondiscovery.com/