Drug discovery in HD: Oxford spinoff's mass spectrometry approach scores fresh funding
The technology used to detect explosives at airports — mass spectrometry — is being piloted as an engine for drug discovery.
Mass spectrometry is a tool designed to measure with profound accuracy the mass of a single molecule. Typically, mass spectrometers can be used to identify unknown compounds, to quantify known compounds, and to determine the structure and chemical properties of molecules.
Using this information to develop drugs, versus using traditional cell-based assays is an approach pioneered by Carol Robinson, the first female professor of chemistry at the University of Oxford. Alongside her former students, Robinson founded OMass Therapeutics to move it forward in the field of membrane targets, including GPCRs.
On Monday, the Oxford spinoff unveiled £27.5 million in additional Series A financing from Syncona, Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), and the University of Oxford, bringing its total haul to £41.5 million.
“It’s drug discovery in high definition…it’s all about revealing the picture with higher resolution. And it’s about high content data. The reason mass spectrometry is interesting in drug discovery is that the content that you get from the data is much higher resolution than through a cell-based assay,” OMass chief Ros Deegan told Endpoints News.
“So in a cell-based assay, you’re effectively answering only the question that you asked, whereas, in native mass spectrometry, it’s a biophysical approach.”
The majority of existing therapeutics target membrane protein — accessible on the surface of cells — to modify cellular signaling. In contrast to traditional cell-based assays, the mass spectrometry approach offers ‘high definition’ insight into understanding membrane protein biology, Deegan noted.
The platform provides access to different chemical starting points because biophysical approaches tend to point toward different chemistry — as they are not biased to specific types of chemistry through the use of cell-based assays, she said. “Cell-based assays tend to put you in lipophilic, quite often large lipophilic compounds.”
If the approach is shown to work, it could serve to shorten drug discovery timeframes.
“Ultimately the company aims to use high definition technologies to efficiently access candidates with a greater PoS (probability of success) in high-value areas, therefore significantly shortening the drug discovery timeline for small molecules,” said Lachlan MacKinnon, principal at OSI in an email to Endpoints.
OMass intends to not just identify molecules of interest but to take them through to the market themselves. It has three programs at the moment — although they are far from being ready for the clinic.
The capital injection will give OMass — which is focusing on immunology and genetically defined diseases outside of immunology — just over two years of runway and will be used to shepherd its lead program into preclinical development.