Between 2010 and 2020, drug companies across the world spent more than £1.2trillion trying to find new ways to cure diseases.
Much of that money was devoted to seeking treatments for cancer, diabetes, heart problems and other increasingly widespread conditions of the modern age.
Now, however, attention is turning to another area, infectious diseases. Many of these have been out of fashion in the research and development world, but the Covid19 pandemic has highlighted the devastation they can cause.
Safe: Poolbeg’s new drug could be used to treat flu – and possibly Covid too
The coronavirus is just one of many infectious diseases that cause inflammation, long-term side effects and, at their worst, death.
Flu, for example, affects one in eight people globally each year. Ten million of them are hospitalised and there are up to 500,000 deaths annually. Vaccines do their bit, but they are not foolproof, with efficacy as low as 10 per cent in some cases.
As for treatment, Tamiflu is the best-known drug on the market today. With sales topping £700million annually, Tamiflu can work wonders if taken early. But the pills become less effective within a couple of days, which is when severe symptoms tend to develop and people are taken to hospital.
Poolbeg Pharma is hoping to address this issue, with a product aimed specifically at severe cases of flu and similar infectious diseases, potentially even Covid-19.
The firm was listed on the London Stock Exchange’s junior AIM market at 10p a share last month. The stock has since fallen to 9p, but should increase materially as the business makes progress on the flu front and expands into other areas.
Poolbeg is chaired by Cathal Friel, the Irish entrepreneur, who co-founded Amryt Pharma in 2015 and set up Open Orphan two years later. Amryt (recommended by Midas at the equivalent of £1.06 a share in 2017) is now valued at more than £550million or £1.74 a share. Open Orphan is worth £140million with significant growth potential.
Poolbeg’s chief executive is Jeremy Skillington, a biochemist by training who moved into the world of commerce almost two decades ago. In 2016, he joined Inflazome, a biotech business founded that same year and sold to drugs giant Roche for at least $450million (£330million) just 11 months ago.
Friel and Skillington are hoping to bring their money-making expertise to Poolbeg, while also finding cures for some of the world’s most pernicious diseases.
Poolbeg was spun out of Open Orphan and, in the process, gained access to vast amounts of data that shows how flu and other infectious diseases develop.
Accumulated over more than a decade, the data is based on studies with volunteers across the world.
These provide a rich seam of information that can be dissected using artificial intelligence to find common patterns and anomalies.
At the same time, computer power is used to seek out products that have been trialled for other illnesses and found wanting, but which could deliver results if used in a different way or for different diseases.
This type of analysis has already unearthed an ‘inhibitor’, known as POLB 001, that has genuine potential as a treatment for flu.
The product has been shown to be safe for human use, and early-stage trials around its effect on flu have proved encouraging.
Now Skillington, armed with funding from the recent flotation, intends to develop POLB 001 until it is ready for wider and more costly trials, at which point he intends to license it to a large pharmaceutical firm.
The process is expected to cost between £2million and £3million and the intention is to seal a deal within 18 months. Indications are promising and there are even hopes that POLB 001 could be adapted to treat certain coronavirus cases.
Poolbeg has a pipeline of other products, all of which it hopes to develop and monetise quickly and cheaply. The group is also using its data bank to work on vaccine development and on identifying markers that show whether someone is likely to be severely affected by an infectious disease or not.
Midas verdict: Young biotech firms are not for the cautious but Poolbeg, at 9p, could prove an exciting investment for the adventurous investor. Cathal Friel has had notable success in the drugs field, Skillington is highly experienced too, and the group’s decision to focus on infectious diseases is timely. Buy.
Traded on: AIM Ticker: POLB Contact: poolbegpharma.com or 020 7183 1499
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