ce-56_144x217PIramed was a cancer research company seeded and spun-out from The Institute of Cancer by Sir Chris who invested $0.1m in April 2003 along with JP Morgan.  It was founded to develop ‘first in class’ anti-cancer therapeutics based on kinase inhibitors.  Following five years of focused development on just two molecules, the company was acquired by Roche for $185m cash, spectacularly achieving one of the highest trade sales of a start-up company in the European life sciences market in a remarkably short space of time.

Prior to its acquisition by Roche, PIramed was also regarded as having achieved one of the largesst ever preclinical collaboration signed by a UK biotech company with its 2005 deal with Genentech.  PIramed was the winner of the Innovation in Drug Discovery and Development Award in the UK BioEnterpreneurial Company of the Year Awards in 2007 and in the same year a Fierce 15 Award winner in the global ‘Fierce 15′ Awards.

piramed-__fierce15_winner_logoSir Chris personally chaired PIramed for half its life and complemented the top quality scientific founders of the company with a first class CEO, executive management team and board of directors. Merlin continued to provide funding, along with JP Morgan, strategic advice and mentoring to the company during its development such that it did not try to progress funding of huge Phase II clinical trials.

Indeed, one of the key strategies was to ensure PIramed obtained a thorough toxicology and pre clinical dataset from their research to demonstrate its clear value to potential partners.  That value was quickly when PIramed achieved what is regarded as the largest pre clinical collaboration ever signed by a UK biotech company when it secured a deal with Genentech worth up to $230m – just two years after the initial investment.  This deal also resulted in PIramed winning a Fierce Biotech 15 Award and being highlighted as one of the new breed of leaders in the UK biotech indusstry.

The company’s research targeted powerful selective inhibitors of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase pathway (“PI 3 K”).  The PI 3 kinases are at the heart of major pathways of intracellular signal transduction and influence a wide variety of cellular functions, including cell division.


The Merlin investment enabled the company to fund development of its small molecules to potential therapeutic candidates at pre-clinical level.  Since then further detailed preclinical studies have gone on to demonstrate the activity of PI 3 K inhibitors in a broad range of tumours such as breast and lung cancer, as well as their potential importance in treating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

By recognising, at the outset, the world class quality of the scientists and technology within the team, and by creating and supporting the business through a series of quick and effective internal funding rounds as well as leveraging Merlin’s extensive knowledge of the cancer research field, Sir Chris helped enable significant value to be created in an exceptionally short space of time, making PIramed a very attractive company indeed.

roche_in__160m_piramed_buyout_151x169By May 2008, Excalibur exited its investment.  After initially investing just $0.1m five years earlier, Roche acquired 100% of PIramed’s shares for a total of $185m in cash, including milestone payments.  By acquiring PIramed, Roche gained access to an important oncology target with potential for treating major cancers such as breast and lung, with the first drug candidate in Phase I clinical testing.  In addition, it gained access to a secondary research programme centred on a potential target in inflammatory indication such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The exit has been well recognised in the European and US industry as an outstanding investment.  Excalibur demonstrated how significant value can still be created and realised in a niche industry that has been hit hard by investor sentiment during the world economic downturn and credit crunch.