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We caught up with Jack O’Meara, Founder & CEO of Ochre Bio as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Ochre Bio develops genomic medicines to rejuvenate donor livers before transplant, so that everyone who needs a new liver gets one.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Jack: My name is Jack, I am the CEO and a Co-Founder of Ochre Bio, a therapeutics company developing therapies to rejuvenate otherwise discarded donor livers. Many donor livers that come into the transplant centres in the UK are too unhealthy/fatty, and so are thrown away. At Ochre, we aim to salvage these by employing advanced genomics and high-throughput screening to identify disease-causing genes, and then developing combination therapies which we test in donor livers kept alive outside of the body. Our long-term goal is to develop therapies to treat fatty liver disease (NASH/NAFL). We recently closed our seed financing from leading US and European investors, and our team has just tripled to 6 people – exciting times! Our research is in the discovery/pre-clinical stage.
Jack: My Co-Founder and CSO has been researching liver metabolism for 20+ years. It’s a particularly difficult space to develop therapies for due to a paucity of predictive preclinical models or accurate clinical biomarkers. Last year, a machine out of Oxford was clinically approved to keep donor livers alive ex vivo by pumping oxygenated blood through them. This machine, combined with breakthroughs in genomics and tissue engineering, allows us to study and treat these livers before they’re transplanted.
There are a lot of businesses looking at fatty liver disease within the field of life sciences, but a lot have failed. Oftentimes, their focus is on the later stages of the disease, when much of the damage has been done and it’s arguably too late to affect disease pathogenesis. For us, by focusing on the transplant space and the metabolic roots of the disease, we hope to get therapies for early-stage fatty liver disease to market. Additionally, we have a heavily genomics-based approach to identifying novel biological targets. This year we are sequencing 1,000 liver biopsies to identify the genes that our therapies should be targeting.
Jack: We have a strong scientific team of seasoned drug developers and thankfully have not yet been meaningfully impacted by COVID. There is a bit of a worry for the end of the year as transplant centres have been closed, so this may lead to a shortage of liver tissue for testing.
Jack: We are trying to understand the fundamental roots of this multifactorial, complex disease. And we believe our large genomic atlasing project of 1,000 liver biopsies is a good way to do so.
Jack: It is hard to ever predict anything in biology, it is just a complex space. Biology aside, one of the big challenges we have had in getting the business off the ground is getting the culture right during a time of COVID.
Fortunately, we’ve managed to bring on board a stellar team of self-motivated people, and the scientific foundations were put in place by our CSO in order to set ourselves up for success.
Jack: Build a strong advisory network. So much in the life sciences has been done before, so having people near at hand to ask (sometimes dumb) questions helps you circumvent a lot of the challenges you’re bound to run up against. What most people don’t realize is that the early success of start-ups is almost always about tactics rather than strategy.
Also, if you’re thinking of starting your own business, think about the culture you want to set. In the words of Peter Drucker, it eats strategy for breakfast.
Thank you so much for your time.