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Quadrivium 1 case study: PEP-Therapy (France), Biotech company developing targeted therapies for the treatment of severe diseases


PEP-Therapy (Paris), a biotech company developing targeted therapies for the treatment of severe diseases.

Angelita Rebollo is a fun-loving Spaniard whose email signature includes the message, “When life hands you a lemon, bring out the tequila and salt.” She also has a brilliant scientific mind, which she uses to kill—cancerous cells, that is.

In her laboratory at Université Pierre et Marie Curie in the historic Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital near the banks of the Seine in central Paris, Rebollo has developed a technique for blocking specific functions of proteins that turn a healthy cell into a cancer cell. The treatment could help people with a range of illnesses, though initial results suggest it will first be used to treat ovarian cancer and severe types of breast cancers. While chemotherapy causes numerous side-effects by destroying many good cells along with the cancerous ones, Rebollo’s targeted therapy kills only the cancerous cells.

Her research into the topic started 17 years ago in Madrid and led her to found a company, PEP-Therapy, with a few other scientists working at prestigious French research institutions. The company name comes from the molecules at the heart of Rebollo’s research—cell-penetrating and interfering peptides—and the company’s role is to convert this scientific breakthrough into a medicine that can be used to save lives.

“The reason we created the company was to translate the research from the bench to the hospital,” says Rebollo. “The objective is to develop a molecule that will help many, many people.”

PEP-Therapy received EUR 1 million of support from Quadrivium 1, the first French investment fund to provide seed funding for life sciences and digital technology projects that start out at—or are linked to—a dozen French academic research institutions. It’s a model that was pioneered by US universities. In Europe it has been taken up most strongly in the UK. But it hasn’t been done before in France. “It has been challenging to introduce this concept to France,” says Philippe Tramoy, the Quadrivium 1 partner who manages its life sciences portfolio. “We’re the first one, so everybody is watching us to see if this is something they can follow.”

U.S. universities have long “spun out” their research into separate companies. Genentech was founded in 1976 by a University of California, San Francisco biochemist and, in 2009, was bought by a Swiss company for USD 46.9 billion. The Lycos search engine started as an academic project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and was sold for USD 36 million in 2010. A university tends to earn more money ultimately by developing a product than by simply licensing its research to a big company for further development. Equity stakes in the spinouts also encourage researchers to remain at their academic posts, instead of taking higher-paid positions in private industry.Beyond the US, the academic spinout has been taken up to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds in the UK. Last year the European Investment Bank loaned GBP 50 million to Imperial Innovations, a company that takes research produced primarily at London’s Imperial College and develops businesses in biotech and life sciences. That followed a previous GBP 30 million EIB loan to Imperial Innovations in 2013. There are successful spinout funds at other UK universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and University College London.

But Quadrivium 1 was a French first when it started in December 2013, managed by a team at Seventure Partners and funded by several investors, including Bpifrance, a subsidiary of Caisse des Dépôts. On 29 April, the fund got a EUR 20 million injection from the European Investment Fund, a part of the EIB Group, taking Quadrivium 1’s total financing to EUR 56 million.

The EIF’s investment was backed by a part of the EU’s Investment Plan for Europe, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which targets innovative projects.

Company: PEP-Therapy, Paris
Type of business: biotech company developing targeted therapies for the treatment of severe diseases, with an initial focus on cancer.
EU-supported investment through  Quadrivium 1: EUR 1 million 

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