The Hive: new incubator makes a beeline for non-traditional pharma companies

Elsevier’s new incubator project aims to highlight and bolster the incredible innovation taking place within pharmaceutical and biotech start-ups. Elly Earls catches up with Elsevier and two of the companies involved to find out more about The Hive and the projects it’s designed to support.


A new incubator project designed to highlight the incredible innovation taking place outside the walls of traditional pharma companies – and to help the industry’s smaller players overcome R&D bottlenecks – is well underway. And the biotech and pharmaceutical start-ups involved are already seeing big benefits.

The Hive, which was conceived and created by Elsevier, a world leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products, gives promising early-stage companies complimentary access to its suite of R&D information tools, and was set up for two reasons.

“First, we noticed that, in recent years, over 60% of drug discoveries originated in universities, research centres, or other small biotech or pharma companies and start-ups. And second, almost half of the industry's R&D pipelines are now externally sourced, and they’re also coming from open innovation initiatives, academia or small start-ups,” explains Betsy Davis, senior manager of the pharma and biotech segment, R&D Solutions at Elsevier.

“Not only did we want to highlight the start-ups making those impactful discoveries and give them a platform to promote their innovations, but we also wanted to enable the wider pharma R&D world to learn from these very young and nimble organisations.”

The participants

Initially, The Hive has four participants, all of which are biotech or pharma start-ups engaged in early-stage drug discovery and development research, and all of which were selected because they had demonstrated a commitment to addressing an area of high need in therapeutics.

"Arctic Pharma is developing anti-cancer drugs by exploiting the ‘sweet tooth’ of cancer cells."

“They are exceptional examples of the kind of cutting-edge research that is happening all over the industry, and across geographies, and we believe that each one has the potential to improve the lives of patients,” Davis remarks, adding that they are also an interesting cross-section of different therapeutic areas and R&D models.

While Arctic Pharma is developing anti-cancer drugs by exploiting the ‘sweet tooth’ of cancer cells and their peculiar metabolic features, Rubius Therapeutics, founded by Flagship VentureLabs, is using breakthrough science to develop an entirely new class of therapy: Red-Cell Therapeutics™.

The lead compound of participant number three Myelo Therapeutics, meanwhile, is currently being investigated for its efficacy in reducing the occurrence of chemotherapy-induced neutropenia (CIN), a side effect of cytotoxic chemotherapy that can delay treatment. The final participant, Reset Therapeutics, is a discovery-stage biopharma company developing first-in-class approaches to treating diseases by restoring the body’s natural 24-hour – or circadian – rhythms.

The resources

Already, access to Elsevier’s suite of R&D tools, including include Pathway Studio™, Reaxys ®, Reaxys ® Medicinal Chemistry, ScienceDirect, Scopus, PharmaPendium® and Embase, has proven invaluable for The Hive’s enthusiastic participants.

“When we found out we were accepted to The Hive, my jaw almost hit the ground,” recalls Reset Therapeutics’ director of translational medicine Jamie Cope. “Having spent ten to fifteen years in industry, all at start-ups, it’s a real challenge to stay on top of the huge amount of literature that’s out there, just starting with the peer reviewed scientific literature.”

For Cope, the tools that have so far been most impactful to Reset’s work have been ScienceDirect, Embase and PharmaPendium. “Between Science Direct and Embase, I feel that in conjunction with ongoing PubMed searches, I can stay on top of the literature,” he explains.

“In ScienceDirect, it’s wonderful to have access to all of the Elsevier journals, to be able to click through to something and get the PDF without worrying about copyright, and the limits of ScienceDirect, in that they only access Elsevier journals, is balanced by the existence and availability of Embase.”

Embase is a biomedical database, which is often used as a complement to PubMed (because of its conference abstracts and coverage of European journals not in Medline) and ScienceDirect.   

"We’ve been able to benefit hugely from the knowledge of other experts."

Approaching clinical trials, PharmaPendium, which provides regulatory information in a way that is easy to search and access – as well as providing information about potential side effects, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of precedent drugs – has, also been extremely useful to the Reset team.

“The breadth of knowledge and the length of knowledge going back to the nineteenth century is absolutely remarkable,” says Ross Bersot, Reset president, founder and CEO, adding that from the scientific standpoint, Reaxys® and Reaxys® Medicinal Chemistry (easy to use tools that enable chemical synthesis and lead optimisation) are without doubt the products that have the potential to make the most near-term impact on Reset’s work.

“We have access to other products or services that are similar to that, but we brought in a whole new med chem [medicinal chemistry] team recently and some of them were used to working with Reaxys ®.So enabling them to build upon the knowledge that they had gained and the ease of working with Reaxys® has actually helped them go faster in what we’re doing on that side.”

Davis adds: “One of our Hive participants recently said that his chemistry team can have a meeting at 10 am to discuss their work, break at 11, and, thanks to the information in Reaxys®, can have a new molecule going by 11:30.”

The results

While the expansion of The Hive depends on lessons learned from the first round, the ultimate plan is to open up the incubator to more early-stage companies like Reset and Arctic Pharma, both of which have only positive feedback about their initial experiences.

“The chance to work in an incubator like The Hive is fantastic. We’ve been able to benefit hugely from the knowledge of other experts and share experiences with other entrepreneurs, which is incredibly valuable,” says Claudia Bøen, CEO of Arctic Pharma, a company that aims to become a leader in cancer therapies and is currently in the process of filing patents for a number of promising breast cancer inhibitors.

“The Hive also gives hands-on training of technologies that will help us make better informed decisions on lead compound selections, and will increase our productivity by reducing the time we spend searching for relevant and trustworthy data for our research.”

Bersot also believes that working with Elsevier will give his company – which is set to start a human trial this year for a project that five years ago was written on a napkin – a leg up against the competition.

“Literally there was nothing. It was one compound. And we’ve developed that into a whole suite of compounds, a huge chemistry programme and a number of things that we can take into the clinic to treat really important diseases like diabetes, Cushing’s disease, inflammatory disorders and even some forms of cancer,” he explains.

“So as we get through the first stage of clinical trials and prove that we can treat people safely, I think that expands the opportunities for the company in terms of where we can go as a business. In order to give ourselves the best leg up against our competitors and to give ourselves the best level of equivalence with the people who are going to be important to help us partner and go forward as a company to later-stage clinical trials, we have to know what everybody else knows and the only way to do that is to have access to a good suite of tools like the Elsevier products.”