New GSK spinout grabs £10M, top researchers and drugs for hearing loss

Working hand-in-hand with two top venture outfits and a leading research institute, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has crafted yet another biotech spinout from some of the drug prospects in its pipeline. And as the pharma giant re-engineers its drug development strategy, several of the pharma company's senior scientists in the field are going along for the entrepreneurial ride.

Imperial Innovations and SV Life Sciences are each contributing £5 million--a total of $14.4 million--to Autifony Therapeutics in a Series A round designed to advance its preclinical assets; drugs targeting voltage-gated ion channels which promise to treat hearing loss and tinnitus. And GSK will nab a minority stake in the venture as it helps launch a new drug developer in the U.K.

Charles Large, Glaxo's director of molecular and cellular biology, will be the new CSO and Giuseppe Alvaro, previously chemistry leader within GSK's neuroscience division, is head of preclinical discovery. Autifony's board will include non-executive Chairman John Berriman, formerly a director of Abingworth Management and Celltech, and independent non-executive director Allan Baxter, former senior vice president of medicines development at GSK. And in an interesting twist, Professor David McAlpine and Jennifer Linden, experts in auditory neuroscience at University College London's Ear Institute, will collaborate on the work, with UCL acting as another founding shareholder in Autifony.

"There are currently no pharmacological treatments available for hearing loss or tinnitus despite the increasingly large number of patients, both old and young, that suffer from these conditions," says Large. "Autifony represents an important opportunity to bring together our drug-discovery experience with the expertise of academic groups in this field, in particular the Ear Institute."

Glaxo has spun out several new biotechs with the help of the country's venture groups. The pharma giant spun out Convergence Pharmaceuticals last fall, testing GlaxoSmithKline's belief that small biotechs can achieve big goals better than Big Pharma. It launched with just about every advantage a biotech start-up could dream of: A lead program ready to move immediately into Phase II, a $35.4 million bankroll from A-list investors and a group of ex-GSK scientists who can still turn to the Big Pharma company for help.

- see the GSK release
- check out the release from Imperial Innovations

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