LIF-NanoRx Ltd graduated from Cambridge Social Ventures in July 2016.
LIFNano Therapeutics has invented and patented a new approach to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) using nano-technology. Cambridge Social Ventures believes that this medical innovation has the potential to halt the cruel progression of MS in patients around the globe, whilst saving global healthcare providers billions.
When Dr Su Metcalfe, working in the University of Cambridge, discovered that LIF, a small protein, is able to switch off the fault that is linked to autoimmune diseases including Multiple Sclerosis (MS), she came up with an idea. If she could find a way of delivering LIF to the autoimmune cells that attack the central nervous system (CNS), it would be possible to reset self-tolerance in the central nervous system and stop the progress of the disease.
Dr Metcalfe explains more:
“Multiple sclerosis is a disease driven by inflammatory auto-immune attack against the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The disease hits the young, mostly people in their early 30s, but also children. Currently, there is no cure for MS and its progression is cruel, variably affecting different nerves during each relapse whilst also accumulating irreversible nerve damage to result in motor, autonomic, cognitive and sensory defects, including pain.
“With 2.5 million cases worldwide, MS is a heavy burden for those who suffer and their carers and for the national healthcare economies. Indeed, the annual societal and medicinal economic global impact of MS is some $100 billion with global differences in treatment strongly influenced by economic factors.”
When Su realised that a new type of therapy, called nano-therapy would enable the targeted delivery of very small nano-particles to precisely where they are needed – like a magic bullet, she was intent on finding a way to incorporate LIF into PLGA nano-particles. This step was important because PLGA is already used in the clinic – for example as soluble stitches following an operation. So LIF-PLGA nanoparticles would deliver the LIF, then LIF would switch back on self-tolerance, then the PLGA would dissolve to carbon dioxide and water. Together with Yale researcher Dr Tarek Fahmy, who provided the enabling nano-technology, Su invented and patented the LIFNano device and it worked! Now the aim is to take the LIFNano to the clinic to treat people suffering from MS: for this reason LIFNano Therapeutics was founded.
Dr Su Metcalfe – working at Addenbrooke’s Hospital – invented and patented the life-saving technology LIFNano at a time when nano-therapy was emerging as a new era of medicine. In 2013 Su set up LIFNano Therapeutics, a Cambridge spinout, in order to develop the invention in a way that would benefit patients with MS.
The first UK recipient of the Merck Serono Grant for Multiple Sclerosis Innovation in 2014, worth £150,000, Su was successful in gaining match funding from Innovate UK and is now developing a social enterprise model to further develop this innovation in a way that will ensure growth and impact focuses on patient need, rather than profit alone.
LIFNano Technologies’ key stakeholders are patients, their carers and the global economy. This is because MS, with 2.5 million cases worldwide, is a huge burden, not only for those who suffer and their carers, but also for national healthcare economies. The annual societal and medicinal economic global impact of MS is some $100 billion. Global differences in treatment are strongly influenced by economic factors. Current drugs do not cure MS and for each patient’s lifetime the estimated cost of care is $1.2m. The total annual spend on drugs alone is $14 billion. The annual economic impact on society, excluding drug costs, approaches $90 billion. Today, care for those who suffer from MS in low economy countries is strongly influenced by cost. Crucially, the presence of an MS support group is also strongly influenced by the local economy – only 14 per cent in low-income countries. MS groups and organisations play an important role in distributing information and providing support and services, a major beneficial impact for those who suffer.
In the short term Su is intent on generating awareness of the potential of nano-technology to cure fatal diseases whilst significantly cutting global health costs. Su has already brought nano-medicine into government consciousness. Public engagement through her radio broadcasts, website and blogs is growing to deliver global public awareness.
In the long term Su intends to work with local MS communities in low-income countries to establish organisations for patient-driven MS support. This will develop public pressure on local government where funding for therapy drops to zero in low-income countries.