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Small Pharma raises £830,000 from angel investors to develop ketamine-based drug as severe depression treatment

The firm, a London-based start-up, said the funds raised will be supplemented by a £140,000 grant from Innovate UK to support the development of a rapid-acting drug
Woman with depression
The funding round was led by Chris Torrance, co-founder of AIM-listed Horizon Discovery Group PLC

A firm which is developing a drug for patients experiencing severe depression using a derivative of horse tranquiliser ketamine has raised £830,000 from noted pharma sector investors and via an angel investing platform.

Small Pharma, a London-based pharmaceutical start-up, said the funds raised will be supplemented by a £140,000 grant from Innovate UK to support the development of a rapid-acting drug.

The funding round was led by Chris Torrance, co-founder of AIM-listed Horizon Discovery Group PLC (LON:HZD) and PhoreMost, with the Angel Co-Fund, pharma sector experts and investors Steve Harris, David Ebsworth and Peter Keen, and Secret Escapes co-founder, Tom Valentine, also participating.

Torrance has also joined the board of Small Pharma, alongside Harris who has sat on the board since November 2015, and will become chairman of the two year-old pre-clinical biotech firm.

Harris’ wealth of board experience includes Skyephama, now merged with Vectura PLC (LON:VEC), and Cyprotex, recently acquired by German biotech group Evotec AG

The investors were also joined by 63 additional angels, following a successful campaign on investing platform, SyndicateRoom.

Gonçalo de Vasconcelos, CEO and co-founder of SyndicateRoom, said: “We are delighted to share in SmallPharma’s success. Our aim is to work with businesses that make the world a better place, and it is immensely encouraging to see a high level of support for medical research and development aimed at changing people’s lives.”

Small Pharma, founded in 2015 by Peter Rands, focuses on low-cost pharmaceutical product development and has a unique model for selecting and executing projects centred on detailed intellectual property strategy.

Severely undertreated …

Rands, Small Pharma’s managing director, said: “We are extremely excited to team up with a fantastic set of investors, enabling us to take this project further over the next two years.

“Depression remains severely undertreated, and with these funds in place we can move forward with a focus on developing our drug candidate to help address the unmet needs of patients with depression.”

And lead investor Torrance, added: “Current antidepressants typically take six to twelve weeks before a response is established. A fast acting drug, with a novel yet proven mechanism with reduced side-effects would be transformative in bridging this treatment gap.”

Clinical trials have demonstrated a potent anti-depressant effect using intravenous infusions of ketamine.

However, delivery of the drug via this method requires the presence of a healthcare professional and normally requires patients to travel for treatment, and the problem is compounded by ketamine’s adverse side effects, and the potential for abuse.

Small Pharma are developing a modified drug product which aims to overcome these challenges.

No wrinkles …

The launch comes in a week when US-listed pharma group  Allergan Inc (NYSE:AGN) revealed it is to push ahead with a final trial using its anti-wrinkle treatment Botox as a depression treatment, even though a dosing trial missed its targets.

READ: Allergan to push on with final Botox trial …

Research head David Nicholson said Allergan was encouraged by the data and the potential impact on adults with major depressive disorder even though the lower dose just failed to make a statistically significant improvement compared to a placebo.

Results were close to those achieved from antidepressants on the market and consistent with earlier, smaller Botox depression trials.

Botox is one of Allergan’s best selling drugs. As a wrinkle removal treatment it generated half of the firm’s US$2.78bn sales in 2016, but the company is keen to broaden its use into other indications.

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