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Bristol-based company breaks records for a UK biodesign exit

Press release issued: 24 August 2018

Biodesign spinout company Ziylo has been acquired by global healthcare company Novo Nordisk in a deal that could exceed $800m.

Ziylo was founded in 2014 by Professor Tony Davis, Dr Harry Destecroix and Tom Smart. Based on University of Bristol research, the company developed an innovative technology platform (synthetic Glucose Binding Molecules - GBMs), which could lead to glucose responsive insulin (GRI) for diabetes sufferers. These will be engineered to automatically adjust their potency in response to changes in blood glucose levels. Critically, this will enable tighter control of blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of both hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia.

The acquisition will see Novo Nordisk develop Ziylo's GBM platform for diabetes and other therapeutic applications. A new company, Carbometrics, will be spun out to continue the commercialisation of the platform for non-therapeutic applications including continuous glucose monitoring.

This deal is not only an incredible success story for Ziylo but represents a huge boost for biodesign research in Bristol and the UK at large. Biodesign (also referred to as synthetic biology) uses engineering approaches to accelerate the pace of research and innovation for novel biomolecules and biological systems.

The UK has made biodesign a strategic priority and has invested over £400m in basic and applied research. This deal is the largest exit for a UK biodesign company and is five times larger than the previous record – the 2015 sale of Oxitec to Intrexon for $160m.

The University of Bristol is a leading centre for biodesign and recently established the Bristol BioDesign Institute (BBI) to bring together all research, training and innovation activities in this field. Through its Innovation Programme, BBI has supported three new biodesign companies (Zentraxa, CytoSeek and Imophoron) with more being developed.

Prof. Dek Woolfson, Director of the Bristol BioDesign Institute said of the deal: "Huge congratulations to everyone at Ziylo for the terrific achievement of turning a simple academic idea into a company with massive commercial value and the potential to help address one of the world’s greatest medical challenges.

"This work builds on a legacy of world-class science and innovation in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol and demonstrates what is possible when chemical and engineering approaches are combined to tackle biomedical problems.

"Through the Bristol BioDesign Institute, we are ramping up our innovation activities. Ziylo is an inspiration to our researchers and while it's the first Bristol-based biodesign company to make an exit, it won't be the last."

Professor Imre Berger, co-founder of Imophoron, Bristol's newest biodesign company added: "Ziylo's exit puts Bristol on the map for biodesign innovation. It underlines the incredible untapped innovation potential of the University as well as the passion and entrepreneurial nature of its students and staff."

The Ziylo team have been hugely influential in the early successes of Imophoron. They were instrumental for the company’s initial funding round and also secured space for us in the Unit DX business incubator.”

Dr Andy Chapman, Chief Scientific Officer at Ziylo, said: "The fundamental approach to designing our synthetic Glucose Binding Molecules which were the focus of our recent acquisition were originally inspired by nature. We combine synthetic organic chemistry with biodesign approaches to engineer new molecules to interact with biology and will continue to do so in our new venture - Carbometrics.

"Ziylo's success would have been impossible without the wealth of world-class research at the University of Bristol. We are excited to support the next wave of biodesign companies and will continue to work closely with the Bristol BioDesign Institute."

Further information

About Ziylo

Ziylo is a supramolecular chemistry company that has developed a third 'biomimetic' class of glucose binding molecules (GBMs). These molecules have potential to be a critical component in medical devices such as continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and therapeutics such as glucose responsive insulins (GRIs).

The platform technology is based on over 20 years of cutting-edge research pioneered by Professor Anthony Davis’ group at the University of Bristol and originally inspired by nature's carbohydrate-binding molecules (lectins).

Ziylo was founded by Professor Anthony Davis (Director), Tom Smart (CFO) and Dr Harry Destecroix (CEO), who set up Ziylo while finishing his PhD in the Davis lab. Other directors of Ziylo include Keith MacDonald, an experienced chairman and the primary investor, and Dr Andrew Chapman (CSO) who has led the development of Ziylo’s science since leaving the university.

The management team and board at Ziylo has founded a new company, Carbometrics, which has an exclusive license to develop applications in diagnostics and continuous glucose monitoring. Carbometrics will continue at Unit DX. For more information please visit

About the Bristol BioDesign Institute

Bristol BioDesign Institute (BBI) is the University of Bristol's Specialist Research Institute for synthetic biology. With wide-ranging applications from health to food security, BBI combines pioneering synthetic biology approaches with understanding biomolecular systems to deliver the rational design and engineering of biological systems for useful purposes.

This is delivered through multidisciplinary research which brings together postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, academics, policy makers and industry, whilst also engaging the public with emerging solutions to global challenges.






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