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Off to the CRO races
December 2010
by David Hutton  |  Email the author


CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Sharing a working relationship for more than two years created some familiarity between Horizon Discovery and Hypoxium Ltd. When the opportunity arose for Horizon to acquire Hypoxium, which had been based on the Cambridge Science Park since its foundation in 2007, it proved to be a perfect fit.  
The two companies have been working together for internal R&D and client-driven screening projects. Hypoxium is a contract research organization (CRO) specializing in cell biology within the oncology therapeutic area, and has used its expertise to enable biotech and pharma clients to rapidly and successfully progress their lead compounds. The new CRO, to be called Horizon Discovery Services (HDS), will provide research services to identify how specific cancer genes, mutations and assay conditions affect sensitivity to therapeutic compounds. The commercial terms of the acquisition were not released.
The newly combined company will be led by Dan Cowell, formerly CEO of Hypoxium, who becomes chief operating officer of Horizon, and Dr. Kyla Grimshaw, formerly research director of Hypoxium, who is now the research director.  
Cowell says the key driver for the acquisition was to transfer the service assay development function of Horizon from an outsourced partner to a division of the company. This has resulted in the creation of the following business units: Horizon Discovery, for the generation of client-driven custom cell lines using its Genesis platform; Horizon Discovery Services, which will offer assay development and screening; and Horizon Diagnostics, which will address the diagnostics and reagent markets.  
Cowell says there were a couple of primary reasons that Hypoxium was an attractive acquisition for Horizon, including the fact that the standard approach to cellular screening in vitro has changed little over the last 30 years.  
"Both companies shared the same belief that by using a combination of the right assay, conditions and human disease models, we could increase the understanding and effectiveness of new treatments entering the clinic," he says. "Hypoxium's experience in this area has allowed us to combine our isogenic cell lines that recapitulate the disease driving genetics in specific patient populations with the context of the environment they would exist in within the patients."  
By bringing Hypoxium within the Horizon Discovery brand, Cowell explains that "it allowed us to build on this important personalized medicine concept by increasing the generation and integration of new models and assays relevant to drug discovery researchers and providing them a comprehensive range of tools and services to accelerate their discovery programs."
Moreover, by bringing these under one roof, Cowell says his company maximizes its respective expertise and capabilities to drive the next wave of personalized therapies.
Cowell says the new services provided by HDS include a suite of bespoke assays (marketed as the X-MAN Pathways) that combine Horizon's novel genetically defined isogenic X-MAN human disease models (or "patients-in-a-test-tube"), with Hypoxium's expertise in mimicking the tumor microenvironment in an in vitro setting.
"This will aid the identification of how specific cancer genes and assay conditions, such as limited oxygen (hypoxia), growth-factors and nutrient supplies, affect sensitivity to therapeutic compounds, to support the design of more targeted and effective anticancer drugs," he says. "Our collaboration with Horizon over the last two years has demonstrated that the X-MAN cell lines provide an invaluable tool for researchers in the search for new treatment for cancer. We look forward to bringing this expanded offering to our clients."  
Dr. Darrin Disley, chairman of Horizon Discovery, says his company identified Hypoxium as "a focused, world-class CRO outfit, and the company was quick to realize the potential of X-MAN disease models for accelerating personalized drug discovery." The knowledge that Kyla Grimshaw and her team bring in assay development, mimicking the tumor microenvironment in an in vitro setting and client delivery will be invaluable to HDS moving forward. "  
To support internal research and development that will further expand the suite of services provided by HDS, Horizon is investing $500,000 in a two-year research program. The program will add additional assays to the X-MAN Pathways panel and format these into high-throughput and relevant in-vivo assays to be operated by Horizon's U.S. partner, TGen Drug Development.
In the wake of the Hypoxium acquisition, Horizon isn't likely to be in line for any future deals, with growth likely to be organic.  
"We are committed to developing and expanding the range diagnostic reagents and controls available," Cowell says. "Further growth and investment is likely to be driven by expansion of the existing business units and research and technology focused collaborations. It is unlikely that Horizon Discovery will be pursuing further acquisitions in the near future as we feel that we have the four core business units in place."
Code: E121026



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