Hope for the fight against skin cancer as AMBLor prepares for launch
With melanoma forecast to rise by 40% in the UK in the next 20 years, a new product offers hope for better management of the condition for those with early-stage skin cancer. Dr Marie Labus, CEO of AMLo Biosciences Ltd, tells us about the development of the AMBLor kit which will launch this year, and the company's plans for the future.
Tell us a bit about your business? When and why was it established, what does it offer and to whom?
AMLo Biosciences was established in 2017 by me and Penny Lovat, Professor of Cellular Dermatology at Newcastle University. We started the business to develop work from Penny’s laboratory into a commercial offering. She identified two novel proteins in the surface of the skin that change when a skin tumour, or melanoma, develops metastatic characteristics.
Our first product, called AMBLor, is a kit containing antibodies that detect the presence or absence of these proteins on early-stage melanomas. At the moment, doctors can tell if a mole or lesion is individually cancerous but not whether it has the potential to spread more widely in the body and cause distant, often fatal, cancers.
This means that anyone with what is called a Stage I or II melanoma has to undergo one to five years of invasive surveillance two to four times a year. This creates a lot of unnecessary worry for the 85% of patients whose melanoma will not spread.
AMBLor can tell the doctors if the early-stage melanoma will spread and enable them to step down the surveillance for those at low risk. This will save the NHS and private healthcare resources and money in an environment when both are challenged.
How has the company developed?
In the last three years we have recruited an R&D Manager, a Quality and Regulatory Manager, a part-time Marketing Director, and I have transitioned from the university into a full-time CEO. Recently, we acquired office and laboratory space in The Biosphere in Newcastle’s Helix. We will launch AMBLor in the UK in 2021 and plans are underway for launches in the USA and Australia in 2022.
What is the ethos behind the company and has this changed or developed since you started?
Our ethos is very inclusive and hardworking with a superb team feeling. We are very proud to have a 100% all women executive team and a 50% female representation on the board.
What’s the business’ USP?
We develop and market novel biomarkers for doctors to improve their management of skin cancers and for patients to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of our interventions. There are no other interventions or products in this space.
What investment have you sourced for the business and how has this helped you to go further?
We secured an initial start-up funding from UKRI in 2017 followed by £1m in 2018 and more recently £1.5m from a new investor (The British Innovation Fund, managed by Milltrust International (Milltrust) and backed by UK local authority government pension funds). Importantly, we also secured re-investment from our original financiers (funds managed by NorthStar Ventures, the North East Innovation Fund supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the newly launched Northern Accelerator Seed Investment Fund and Esperante Ventures).
This has enabled us to complete clinical work to prove the accuracy of the test, employ good people and expert companies to help us, and start the work to launch in the UK and prepare for launch in other markets.
What is the most important thing to remember when applying for funding/investment?
Be very clear about your objectives for the investment and how your product meets a gap in the market. Investors invest in the team as much as the technology, so make sure you have the best people involved. Do be prepared to give lots of presentations and experience rejection. No matter how much preparation and information you provide, you will always have to go back and answer the same questions over again. Finally, the culture and fit of your investors is important to the overall business as their representatives may sit on your board and are then part of the overall team.
Can you give us an example of an impactful collaboration your business has been involved in? Why has it been a success?
The cellular pathology lab at Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust has been core to the preparation and analysis of skin samples to create the validation data for AMBLor. We’ve worked with them for the first discovery of our biomarkers and they are part of our wider team.
Recently, we’ve set up a referral service with them to help launch our product. They are as excited as we are to see the product nearing commercialisation and availability to patients and their expertise has been pivotal to our organisation.
UMi is currently running its Go Further campaign, which celebrates organisations with the ‘foresight to inform and respond to the changing world around them’. How does your organisation fulfil this?
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and incidence is forecast to increase by 40% in the next 20 years. The Government’s recent white paper on long-term health plans aims to increase the number of cancers detected at an early stage, which usually improves outcomes.
However, doctors treating early-stage melanoma, unlike some other major cancers, have mainly surveillance as a tool to monitor the progress of the cancer. This means that doctors need an intervention to filter those people who really need ongoing surveillance, and perhaps earlier chemotherapy, from those who really don’t.
What has been your company’s greatest achievement?
It's hard to single out one achievement as the greatest - everything we have achieved has been another step on the pathway to improving patient outcomes following a cancer diagnosis. Our latest investment saw us raising over £1.5m in the middle of global pandemic, which felt like a huge achievement at the time.
What is your business’ short and long-term plans?
In 2021 we will launch our first product AMBLor into the UK private and NHS healthcare market. There is a lot of work to be done to move us from academic spin out to commercial reality. During this period, we aim to recruit an additional four to five scientific and commercial staff, creating employment opportunities in the North East of England.
Thereafter, we will launch in Australia and the USA in 2022, changing the dynamics of the company completely.
Following AMBLor, we have another skin cancer product to launch in both human and veterinary healthcare.
AMLo Biosciences has a healthy future due to its innovative products meeting a defined market need and an excellent team to drive that forward.
The Go Further Investment Index is an opportunity to engage, showcase and celebrate progressive businesses who are pushing through and achieving their aspirations through access to investment, impactful collaborations, and the foresight to inform and respond to the changing world around them.
It is open to Northern Powerhouse and Scotland-based businesses of all sizes and from all sectors, but we are particularly interested in businesses operating within bio-science, health tech, clean energy, decarbonisation, circular economy, data and digitisation, space and satellite, tech, AI and advanced manufacturing.
For more info visit www.gofurtherindex.co.uk.