Hooked on innovation – and the West
The journey from the birth of an idea to full-scale product development is something of a rollercoaster for any business.
But, says Dr. Finola Cliffe, the Chief Operations Officer of Hooke Bio, this journey is a little easier when you have the right kind of support behind you.
The University of Limerick spinout is developing a new drug screening platform called Enigma which will help drug companies to screen their products, for example in drug trials, up to 20 times faster than currently is possible.
It will not only help drug companies to accelerate the rate of screening and of drugs and drug combinations in early discovery phases, but it does so in a manner that is significantly cheaper than current commercial systems.
“That is a very exciting prospect,” says Finola. “This is an expensive and very time-consuming process for drug companies which is why Enigma could be a real game changer for high-throughput screening.
“It has become very obvious during the current Coronavirus pandemic that companies need a much faster and reliable solution as there are real bottlenecks in the current processes.”
Enigma offers users the ability to integrate dispensing, incubation and measurement on one platform – and it can also undertake 3D cell culture.
“We can screen compounds in parallel with each other which greatly speeds up the process and which also saves money. In some aspects, we have been ahead of the curve with things like 3D cell culture.”
Hooke Bio was founded in 2014 by Professor Mark Davies, the founder of Stokes Bio, a research spinout which was sold to Life Technologies in 2010.
Finola says the support of investors has been critical in bringing the company to its current stage and giving it time to develop its product.
“The Enigma platform is not a straightforward development process. But generally speaking we are in development mode for the next two years.”
Hooke Bio’s current staff of 12 including scientists and engineers are currently producing prototypes and CAD designs which are the next stages of its development.
Finola says the company has advanced thanks to the backing of investors including the Western Development Commission’s Investment Fund.
“We had in-depth discussions with the WDC and angel investors. We needed to move out of UL but didn’t have the money to do it.
“The WDC funding allowed us to set up our new unit in Shannon where we built a bespoke warehouse and also bought a 5-Axis CNC machine which allows us mill material for our critical prototypes. It’s a serious bit of kit.
“We’ve been dealing with the WDC for four years and it’s role has been invaluable and not just from a funding perspective.
“The WDC team has helped with tips, advice and support around R&D, tax credits, paperwork and administration as well as giving us access to the amazing network that it has built.
“This support is especially important if you are an SME on a steep learning curve, to clear up aspects of business that can seem insurmountable.”
As for the future, Finola says the outlook is bright and the Co. Clare location couldn’t be better.
“The staff love being in the West and there is a fantastic talent pool with UL and LIT nearby. Rent is cheaper and life is generally more affordable.
“The very exciting track that Hooke Bio is on is driven by its highly skilled team combined with the support of all of our investors.”