Established in 2012, the CRT Pioneer Fund (CPF), managed by Sixth Element Capital, was set up to bridge the investment gap between cancer drug discovery and early clinical development. It was set up as a collaborative and novel financing solution, designed to fund and manage innovative science in order to bring new therapeutic products more rapidly to the point where they could be commercialised. A specialist oncology fund, the principal objective of CPF was to create an asset-centric fund investing in early-stage assets and funding them through discovery to clinical trials before exiting. The fund was specifically designed with a focus on moving forward projects that had arisen from Cancer Research UK’s investment in drug discovery.
A key element of CPF’s strategy has been accepting the risks associated with investing in single assets. It has managed the risk in each project through diversification at the level of the entire fund. This has enabled an investment process that is very rigorous and focussed on the technical and financial challenges associated with an individual drug discovery project, rather than developing platform technologies.
Another key investment principle is to focus investments on world-class research institutions as the source of projects and invest into these institutions to advance projects, rather than seek to spin projects out into new companies. This not only keeps investments focussed, but it means that the experts who have discovered the programme are highly engaged in progressing the asset.
The £70 million CPF currently has a portfolio of 11 investments. Of these, CHK1 and MPS1, which both originated from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, successfully entered partnership agreements with high-quality partners, and serve as excellent exemplars of the investment model. For example, CHK1 was at candidate stage when CPF made its first investment in 2013, with the aim of advancing the asset into Phase I clinical trials, working with Cancer Research UK. CHK1 has since partnered with Sierra Oncology, entering a licence agreement whereby Sierra Oncology will pay an aggregate amount of up to $321.5 million upon achievement of certain development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as high single to low double-digit royalties on net sales. CHK1 is now in extensive Phase II evaluation.
This investment model has proved to be a highly effective mechanism to invest in early-stage assets in a way that not only advances the science but also could lead to significant returns to investors.
Robert James is Managing Partner at Sixth Element Capital.
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