EpiCor Therapeutics, an early-stage biotech start-up, has won University College Dublin’s (UCD) 2016 Start-Up of the Year Award. The start-up won the Award, and a €20,000 prize, after being declared overall winner of the 2016 UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme.

EpiCor Therapeutics is developing new disease-modifying treatments that target the mechanisms underlying the development of heart failure. The initial focus of EpiCor Therapeutics is to repurpose an existing drug, 5-azacytidine, for the treatment of a devastating heart disease called hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HOCM).

The disease currently affects around 175,000 people, with associated annual healthcare costs of over $1 billion, in the US alone.

HOCM is a disease in which a portion of the heart muscle is enlarged without any obvious cause resulting in impairment of the heart. The disease, which has no approved disease-modifying therapeutics, is a significant cause of sudden cardiac death of individuals in any age group, and a leading cause of such death in young athletes.

It has debilitating symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations. In addition invasive surgical procedures for this disease have limited benefits.

EpiCor Therapeutics is currently repurposing 5-azacytidine (used mainly for the treatment of diverse bone marrow disorders) as a drug to prevent and reverse cardiac hypertrophy.

Research carried out at UCD by the start-up co-founders indicates that this drug targets the mechanisms that drive the abnormal thickening of the heart muscle which results in the development of this disease. The start-up is also investigating the use of biomarkers to deliver targeted treatment for individuals.

The founders of EpiCor Therapeutics, a UCD School of Medicine start-up, are Dr John Baugh, Dr Nadia Glezeva, Dr Chris Watson, Dr Mark Ledwidge and Professor Ken McDonald.

Dr John Baugh said, “It is an honour for EpiCor Therapeutics to win the 2016 UCD Start-up of the Year Award. It is a great endorsement for us going forward as we work to develop treatments to target a variety of heart diseases, including our initial focus on hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy.”

He added, “We are currently seeking to raise €750,000 in seed funding to enable us to carry out pre-clinical bridging studies. Thereafter, following additional fund raising, we plan to proceed with a clinical proof-of-concept study to enable this drug to be approved as a therapeutic to treat this devastating disease.”

He concluded, “EpiCor Therapeutics is the result of collaborative research, funded by Enterprise Ireland and the Heartbeat Trust, and carried out over many years with colleagues in the UCD School of Medicine, UCD Conway Institute, Queen’s University Belfast, St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Tallaght Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital and Cleveland Clinic, and I would like to acknowledge their contributions to our success to date.”

The overall objective of the annual UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme is to support the creation, and to accelerate the launch, of sustainable and profitable new ventures based on intellectual property emerging from UCD.

The programme aims is to equip UCD researchers with the knowledge, skills and understanding that is required to work as part of a team successfully leading a new commercial venture.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “Excellent research and innovation are central to all that we do in UCD, delivering impact in areas of importance and opportunity. This was clearly displayed by the early-stage start-ups which participated on the 2016 UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme. Through this programme we are supporting our researchers to accelerate the establishment of research-based start-ups which have global market potential.”

She added, “I would like to congratulate EpiCor Therapeutics on winning this year’s VentureLaunch Accelerator Award and I wish them every commercial success for the future.”

The UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme, which is held at NovaUCD the Centre for New Ventures and Entrepreneurs, uses the Business Model Canvas approach to start-up development.

The programme consists of ten 3-hour workshops, delivered over a 3-month period, and a series of one-to-one sessions with external experts in areas such as finance, marketing and customer validation.

In addition to the 2016 UCD Start-up of the Year Award EpiCor Therapeutics was presented with a cheque for €10,000 sponsored by AIB, and a professional services package to the value of €10,000 sponsored by Bryan Maguire Business Consulting and Deloitte.

The 2016 UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme evaluation panel, which selected the overall winner, was chaired by Brendan Cremen, UCD Director of Enterprise and Commercialisation. The other members of the panel were Dr Sharon O’Kane and Dr Sean Baker, NovaUCD Entrepreneurs in Residence in Life Sciences and ICT respectively and Dr Helen McBreen, Investment Director, Atlantic Bridge.

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