The University of Bristol has secured a £45million deal to advance its ground-breaking gene therapy technology for chronic kidney diseases.

The commitment, made by healthcare company Syncona Ltd to Bristol spin-out Purespring Therapeutics, aims to address a global unmet need for renal conditions in one of the largest single investments made to a new UK university biotech company.

Over two million people worldwide currently receive treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive, yet this number may only represent ten per cent of people who need treatment to live.

Until now, advances in the treatment of kidney diseases have lagged significantly behind other diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

This investment marks a significant step forward in the innovation of long overdue new therapies for kidney diseases, which have historically been disproportionately expensive to treat.

Gene therapy – a technique which replaces or alters a faulty gene or adds a new gene to treat or prevent disease instead of using drugs or surgery, offers a potential new type of treatment for renal conditions.

Syncona’s £45 million investment in Purespring will be used to progress to the clinic gene therapy research pioneered by Prof. Moin Saleem, Professor of Paediatric Renal Medicine at Bristol Medical School, and Dr Gavin Welsh, Associate Professor of Renal Medicine.

Professor Saleem’s work is the only study to date (published) to have successfully demonstrated disease rescue in animal models using this technique for a kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome.

Purespring will develop gene therapies directly targeting the glomerulus in the kidney, which could see treatment progress from lab to patients in three or four years.

The company will also have access to an in-vivo functional screening platform, FunSel, to screen for cell-specific protective factors delivered via gene therapy, that could have applications across several kidney diseases. FunSel has been developed by Professor Mauro Giacca at Kings College London.

Professor John Iredale, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Health and Life Sciences at the University of Bristol, said: “Syncona’s expertise in gene therapy and landmark investment in Bristol spin-out Purespring marks an exciting new venture to progress Bristol’s breakthrough discoveries in the treatment of kidney diseases.

“Purespring’s gene therapy platform has enormous potential to improve outcomes in patients with kidney diseases and is a major leap forward for renal therapeutics globally.”

Professor Moin Saleem said: “This is an incredible opportunity to develop transformational treatments for kidney disease. Gene therapy has come of age in certain areas, but a major challenge in complex solid organs is to precisely target the genetic material to the correct cell type.

“Using accumulated expertise in the Bristol Renal research group we have solved this crucial hurdle, putting us in a position to deliver curative gene therapy to patients with chronic and intractable kidney diseases. Syncona have had the foresight to see this potential, and partnering with their world-leading gene therapy experience is the best possible springboard to successfully bring this technology to patients.”