Isogenica turns 25: Our journey

May 2, 2023

We’ve come a long way over the past quarter century, from our early years as a therapeutic peptide discovery company to specialising in VHH antibodies. Like many long-standing businesses, we’ve been through many changes to get to where we are now with lots of new innovations and lessons learned along the way. Here’s the story…

A platform company

Our journey started in May 1998, when we were spun out from Swedish biotech company ActiNova. Having been initially named Pharmacophorix, we became Isogenica in 2001. Our current CEO, Bill Eldridge, was part of that early team, fresh-faced out of Cambridge Antibody Technology, alongside a committed team of synthetic biologists.

Their perseverance and innovation brought our first proprietary technology to life – CIS display. This technology allowed us to screen enormous libraries very quickly and resulted in multiple publications and the granting of our first patent in 2004. At the time, we knew it was a great technology but hadn’t anticipated the journey it would take us on.


A new home, and new investors

A big part of our early work leveraged CIS display to make it easier to discover therapeutic peptides. Alongside this, we strengthened our capability to build the perfect complement – exceptionally large synthetic DNA libraries. To support this journey, Isogenica made the move from the Babraham Research Campus to our current home in Chesterford Research Park thanks to a deal we made with a Finnish peptide development company.

Having only spoken with the investors over the phone, the time came for them to visit us in person onsite. We showed them round our labs – then based in rather cold and tired looking portacabins – and our offices, which included our then CEO’s infamous three-legged desk. Thankfully, the investors thought this was a good sign that all the money was obviously being spent on research rather than flashy offices, and they signed the contract.


Experts in small-format discovery

A key milestone for us was signing a large discovery contract with Johnson and Johnson in 2008, leveraging the screening power of CIS display. This partnership was one of the first big deals we made and it led to compounds entering clinical trials in multiple myeloma and prostate cancer – a real feather in our cap of early success. Over the years we have started to hear the positive patient stories coming from these trials – a welcome reminder of why many of us come to work.

Over the following years we deepened our protein discovery and engineering expertise, working in partnership with a range of biopharma companies and their various preferred scaffolds to discover and develop novel biotherapeutics. Then in 2015 we made the decision to expand our offering by focusing on small-format single domain antibodies – VHHs.

Eight years ago, VHHs did not enjoy the acceptance in the field that they have today and the format was perceived as relatively risky. Happily, once the first VHH drug, caplacizumab, was approved in 2018, the format has only increased in demand for those looking to build cutting-edge therapeutics.


Leveraging our expertise in biotherapeutics

With demand comes supply, and every business needs to innovate to stay fresh and competitive. We felt we could make our mark by harnessing the rise of small format single domain VHH antibodies, originally derived from llamas. Now, with three different VHH libraries at our fingertips and more than two decades of protein engineering experience, we can discover and engineer fully synthetic, tailor-made VHHs that can be cloned into different expression systems and used to build mono-, bi- and multi-specific biotherapeutics.

After years of delivering drugs for our partners, we have learned what makes a great VHH. Now, alongside this work, we are using our passion for improving cancer therapies to build our own proprietary pipeline of VHH-based therapeutics.

Recognising the unique properties of VHHs and how they behave in the body, our first product ISOXTEND – an albumin-binding half-life-extension unit – has improved features over similar products and can be flexibly applied to modulate the pharmacokinetics of most small-format drugs.


People and partners are at the heart of our success

It’s the people that make Isogenica and we wouldn’t be where we are today without our team, past and present. As you might expect, we’ve seen people come and go over the years, although one of the first employees at Isogenica, Bill Eldridge, eventually returned as CEO – you can read more about his journey on LinkedIn.

Building a supportive and nurturing working culture is incredibly important to us. While we might not have always gotten it right, we are always listening and learning. Recently our team felt that a collective value was lived at Isogenica but not recognised – caring. This represents the care we take in our work, our focus on customer needs, and how we support each other as colleagues. This has resulted in developing a new core value – ‘because we care’ – that ensures we can embed this ethos into the company as we grow.

Our Laboratory Facilities Manager, Victoria Palmer, is our longest standing team member recently celebrating her 10 year work anniversary. She shared that our positive atmosphere and working culture are the main reasons why she’s stayed with us.

Thanks to our growing list of partners and collaborators from around the world, the Isogenica team has grown over the last few years and we hope to continue to attract the best talent to join our onward journey.


Where next for Isogenica?

Isogenica has had 25 years of learning what makes a really good biotherapeutic. Over this time we’ve been building up the portfolios of others, with dozens of lead panels delivered, including multiple assets in up to Phase II clinical trials.

Over the years we’ve always invested a proportion of our profits back into developing our scientific capabilities and advancing our technology. This support from investors has allowed us to remain relevant over a long time in a rapidly developing field, while building a vast and diverse knowledge base.

Drawing on all our experience and skills we’re now building an asset pipeline of our own, developing VHH-based drugs that address some of the drawbacks of existing antibody therapeutics for cancer.  And we’re still continuing to provide a great service to our research collaborators and partners, delivering high-quality VHHs for a wide range of applications.

Thanks to our knowledge base and experience, we treat each project as a bespoke piece of work designed to fit in smoothly with our partners and a shared ultimate purpose. And our scientists love getting their teeth into new challenges.

It’s been an exciting journey so far – we can’t wait to see what the next 25 years have in store for us!


Further Information

Isogenica is a biotechnology company specializing in the discovery and development of small format single chain VHH antibodies. We are leaders in our domain, having developed a fully synthetic, in vitro plug-and-play cassette-based approach to efficiently generate combinations of bi- and tri-specific biotherapeutics. Drawing on more than 20 years at the forefront of antibody discovery and engineering, we have built a unique and proven engine for biotherapeutic development and a deep pipeline including two clinical stage assets and more than ten partnered pre-clinical and discovery stage programmes.


Business Development team

T +44 1799 533 680