IONTAS celebrates 5 years of antibody discovery

Posted 03 July 2018

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IONTAS, a leader in antibody discovery services and technology development, held a 5th anniversary party at King’s College, Cambridge, on 30th June 2018 to celebrate its foundation in John McCafferty’s laboratories within the biochemistry department of the University of Cambridge.

Since its formation, the company has grown from 4 scientists focussing on antibody phage display to 29 staff covering phage display and next generation antibody discovery platforms such as mammalian display and KnotBody technology.


Over the past five years, IONTAS has celebrated many accomplishments


John McCafferty, CEO, who discovered antibody phage display and was one of the founders of Cambridge Antibody Technology, established the company without external investment. Since initiation the company has generated profits, much of which have been reinvested in the company to establish a strong commercial presence and to fund innovative research programs to discover antibodies that address key gaps in the antibody drug discovery process.


“When I look back to the early days of the company, we started with a blank piece of paper and a strong scientific base. The day we signed our first contract my academic role ceased, and I handed out three job offers to my academic lab staff. I think it is a reflection of our scientific ethos of quality service and insightful research, that those individuals are still with IONTAS and are growing and prospering as the company grows and evolves. We believe we are a rare beast in offering strong project leadership in our external programs without compromising our investment in ground-breaking research and development.”


“It’s been an exciting five years and we look forward to the future where our newest technology platform, mammalian display, aims to make the discovery process more efficient. This platform allows for the discovery of antibodies that are amenable to manufacturing and thereby reduces development times and enables therapeutics to be placed in the hands of doctors in a timelier manner. This ultimately will also reduce development risk, costs and in due course reduce the price to organisations such as the NHS”


“Further to this, we are now advancing technologies that will have the potential to reach targets previously considered “undruggable”, with antibodies. With our KnotBody platform we are initiating studies that may have far reaching potential in the treatment of chronic pain, stroke and autoimmunity.”


On the early years, Mike Dyson, CTO, added “During the first two years IONTAS flew “under the radar” and the contracts came from John McCafferty’s extensive network within the therapeutic antibody discovery community.  However, during the first 2 years the foundations were set for the company’s later success.  For example, IONTAS built a reputation for the successful delivery of projects which meant repeat business. Also, the work leading to the initial patent application in mammalian display was achieved during this initial 2-year period from 2012 to 2014.  As anyone involved in a start-up company will know, this period was hard work requiring a combination of hands-on bench science, project management of external and internal R&D, and operational issues, but it was still great fun and very exciting.  Having been with the company since the beginning it’s very satisfying to have seen IONTAS grow to the company it is today. The success story of IONTAS demonstrates that UK science is still able to produce innovative companies that has the potential to become a major player on the world biotechnology stage.”

Neil Butt added, “Since joining the company, we have focused on growing revenue maintaining profitability and expanding our R&D capabilities. It is a credit to our staff that we have achieved our goals in delivering to our partners, increasing our profits and expanding our R&D efforts. With great delivery, ground-breaking developments and sound operational and financial footings we have been able to expand the business from a UK centric organisation to a global provider of technology solutions within the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. We now look forward to further expansion, exciting science and aiding our partners to generate the medicines of the future.”


Wendy Bushell, COO, “I’ve worked with John off and on for over 20 years, as a graduate at Cambridge Antibody Technology, again as a post doc at the Sanger Institute and now supporting operations at IONTAS. I remember early in 2015 John called and took me out to lunch, IONTAS was already well established and John’s enthusiasm was palpable, but he & Mike, CTO, needed non-scientific support to help the company grow further, I think I was sold by the end of the soup! By the time I joined the company had already quadrupled in size to 12 people and was busting at the seams of our facility at the Babraham Research Park, one of my first roles was to find us new a facility.  We found our current space in South Cambridgeshire and set about designing both office and lab space to best fit our future aspirations. Despite concerns that the space was too big and we’d rattle around, both labs and the office has quickly filled with both new equipment and new staff as the company continues to thrive and grow.”

We now look forward to the next five years and the exciting ideas and technologies the team at IONTAS will envisage. We look forward to further expanding the service capability we can offer and discovering new and disruptive technologies that will enhance and optimise antibody drug discovery with the aim of generating medicines that will benefit all.