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Cherwell biotech wins funding to fight cancer

An Oxford University spin-out has successfully raised funding to fuel its expansion at Cherwell Innovation Centre, near Bicester, as it looks to use its nanotechnology to enhance the treatment of thousands of people living with cancer.

Xerion Healthcare completed a £2million investment from local venture capital fund, Oxford Sciences Innovation plc, to develop nanotechnology that enhances the effects of radiotherapy.

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Xerion’s nanoparticles are injected into tumours, dispersing throughout the tumour and into cancer cells. When radiotherapy treatment is applied, the nanoparticles generate highly active molecular species, known as ‘free radicals’, which destroy the tumour cells. The nanoparticles split water, rather than interacting with oxygen, allowing the most aggressive oxygen deficient tumour types to be targeted.

Dr. Gareth Wakefield, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Xerion Healthcare, said: “Initial targets for our technology are head and neck and pancreatic cancers both of which have unmet clinical needs. Some throat cancers are impossible to surgically remove and the life span from diagnosis to death for those suffering with pancreatic cancer is usually a matter of months. Our cost-effective nanotechnology is set to have a huge impact by helping to increase quality and length of life of cancer sufferers.”

Xerion Healthcare first moved to Cherwell Innovation Centre in 2015 when seeking use of kitted-out labs and has just expanded to occupy a total of 1,840 sq. ft. of combined laboratory and office space, nearly ten per cent of the centre.

Cherwell Innovation Centre has become known as an attractive proposition for start-ups who have access to The DiagnOx Laboratory, a shared fully equipped 3,000 sq. ft. managed laboratory and office facility.

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Dr. Gareth Wakefield continues: “Cherwell Innovation Centre allows the company to spend funding on recruitment and the science rather than having to buy expensive lab equipment. We have also benefitted from the staff who are very useful to a small company such as ours by assisting with visitors, meeting rooms and becoming part of our team.”

He continued: “Above all, we like being part of an established and thriving biotech community. I’m a physicist running a biotech company, so have found networking with my neighbours, who I also see at local science events, to be invaluable.”

Last year, Xerion Healthcare was highly commended by Oxford Innovation – the UK’s leading operator of business and innovation centres including Cherwell – in the company’s Scale Up Stars of the Future competition to mark its 30th anniversary celebrations.

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Tom Hanney, Regional Manager, North Oxfordshire of Oxford Innovation, said: “Xerion Healthcare is an excellent example of the growing biotech community we are helping at Cherwell Innovation Centre who are developing a unique approach to save pain and suffering from life threatening diseases. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Gareth and his team and will fully support them to ensure they can stay focussed on the science.”

In addition to this latest round of funding, Xerion Healthcare has also been awarded a grant through Innovate UK’s Biomedical Early Catalyst scheme. The company is now tackling the challenge of progressing from pre-clinical to patient trials, which are expected to commence early in 2020.