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Impact story

MRC spin out Bicycle Therapeutics announces partnership with AstraZeneca in $1bn deal

9 Nov 2017

This case study forms part of our Investing for Impact report, looking at how MRC- funded research delivers impact. More can be found in the Investing for Impact section of our website.

In 2016, Bicycle Therapeutics - a MRC spin out company - entered into a collaboration with AstraZeneca potentially worth $1bn. The collaboration will identify and develop novel peptides --compounds consisting of two or more amino acids linked in a chain -- to treat respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. 

Formed in 2009, Bicycle Therapeutics is the brainchild of Sir Gregory Winter at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB). The ambition behind Bicycle Therapeutics was to commercialise the research that began at the LMB many years ago to develop methods to make a new class of drugs. Most drugs are small molecules that are chemically synthesised and taken in orally; others, like antibodies, are large protein molecules made biologically and injected into patients. Both types of molecules have their characteristic pros and cons, but Sir Gregory and his team were interested in combining the advantages of small molecules and antibodies to develop a new, unique class of drug. The resulting molecules known as bicyclic peptides or Bicycles® helped launch Bicycle Therapeutics as a spin out company to further develop the knowledge derived from MRC-funded research. Sir Gregory has decades of experience working with biological molecules, from developing phage display techniques in the 1980s to humanising antibodies in the late 1990s. Sir Gregory’s work in phage display techniques was recognised in 2018 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry alongside Frances Arnold and George Smith.

Sir Gregory Winter is a founder of Bicycle Therapeutics which have developed a new class of drugs called bicyclic peptides.Bicycles® are a completely new type of molecular medicine designed to address many of the limitations of existing drugs. Bicycles® exhibit the affinity and exquisite target specificity usually associated with antibodies but in a small molecule arrangement so that it can be rapidly absorbed through the tissue. Bicycles® can also have an adjustable half-life, to optimise the amount of time it spends inside the body. This limits any toxicity, which is particularly a problem with certain drugs that are highly effective against cancer cells but cause liver damage as they are broken down.

Under the terms of the AstraZeneca (AZ) agreement, Bicycle Therapeutics is responsible for identifying Bicycles® for targets specified by AZ while AZ is responsible for further development and product commercialisation. If all planned programmes reach the market, Bicycle Therapeutics will be eligible for more than $1 billion in payments. Bicycle would also be entitled to receive royalties on sales of products resulting from the collaboration. In 2018, it was announced that the partnership between Bicycle and AZ would be expanded to include work on respiratory and cardio-metabolic diseases.

In 2016, Bicycle Therapeutics also received sponsorship and funding from Cancer Research UK for a Phase I clinical trial of a drug in patients with advanced solid tumours including triple negative breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The trial was initiated in February 2018. The partnership between Bicycle Therapeutics and Cancer Research UK was named the best partnership of 2017 at the Scrip Awards. Since its start in 2009, Bicycle Therapeutics has moved from strength to strength and partnerships such as these help accelerate the progress of research to improve human health. In recognition of its innovative technology, Bicycle Therapeutics was named by Business Weekly as the winner of its 2017 Disruptive Technology Award.


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Respiratory
  • Locations: Cambridge
  • Type: Impact story, Success story