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We caught up with Dr Mark Treherne, Chairman of Talisman Therapeutics as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Talisman Therapeutics is committed to revolutionizing the discovery of disease-modifying treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great 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.
Zoe @ADLIB: Hi Mark, great to meet you! Please can you kick us off with an introduction to yourself and Talisman Therapeutics?
Mark: Great to meet you too! I am the Chairman of Talisman Therapeutics, who are exploiting pluripotent stem cells to develop novel assay systems that enable improved drug discovery outcomes for neurodegenerative diseases. We mainly focus on dementia treatments and Alzheimer’s disease. We are a revenue-generating company, who has multiple pharmaceutical partners and we help other companies to find new compounds and other therapies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. We take stem cells from patients with the appropriate approvals and ethical permission and then make iPSC (induced Pluripotent Stem Cells), whereby we can remodel many of the neurological consequences of dementia and other neurological diseases using tissue culture techniques in the lab.
Talisman was founded in the spring of 2013 and, with some initial investment from O2H Ventures, have set up collaborations with both small and large pharma and have built an experienced team at the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge. The other co-founders alongside myself are Professor Rick Livesey and Dr Emily Scraggs. At that time, Rick was at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge.
Mark: Rick Livesey was looking to do a spin-out and got in touch as we had both been in the dementia field for many years, I have been more on the industrial/commercial side, whilst Rick is more on the scientific side. Rick and Emily both believe that if we can deploy the iPSC technology it will help identify the compounds that are more likely to work on the clinic from those that are less likely to work.
Occasionally, we take an existing project and spin it out into a new company, which can take a novel therapeutic product further on towards the clinic.
Mark: Being in Cambridge there are a lot of bright and clever people around and so far, have had no problems with recruiting good scientists, but finding lab space is a struggle and we are very pleased to be on the Babraham Research Campus. The real issue we have is that the lab-based techniques we use are very complex, so we spend a lot of our time developing and supporting our staff, so they have the right skills.
Mark: The market opportunity was obvious to us, as a lot of disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s have failed or have not shown the expected results at the end of the clinical development process. We thought there must be some better earlier stage assays to better predict clinical outcomes and demonstrate improved “predictive validity” towards the human pathology. Therefore, our technology platform would be more likely to discover therapies that would succeed in the clinic.
Mark: The main challenges that we faced and still face are primarily scientific, as dementia is a complex disease and, lot of the past approaches have not delivered the anticipated clinical outcomes. It’s a huge risk to discover a new drug, but we can mitigate that risk. Dementia research is 10 years behind that of cancer but can be accelerated by inserting assays and biological knowledge into the drug discovery process. This approach will help ween out the less promising compounds, antibodies, and other therapies from the more promising approaches, so companies can refocus investment on research and development that is more likely to succeed.
Mark: Working for a start-up, especially during the COVID pandemic, has been challenging but because of the unmet medical need of dementia sufferers, investors are still willing to invest in this area. The main piece of wisdom I’d like to share is that finding the right investors is key, as this will de-risk the scientific challenges that will be faced and then overcome. Those investors must understand the technology and have done it before. Relevant sector experience should not be underestimated in the Life Sciences!
Thank you so much for your time.