After a gruelling boot camp and months of preparations, six Russian biomed startups were selected Thursday to take part in the first AstraZeneca-Skolkovo accelerator, in which the companies will get intensive support from the multinational pharma giant for the duration of six months.


The six companies were selected via a lengthy process dubbed the AstraZeneca-Skolkovo Startup Challenge, in which a whopping 143 applications were submitted. The companies were divided into two categories: technologies for treating cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory and autoimmune illnesses, and metabolic and kidney disease; and technologies for their diagnosis. Three winners were selected in each category. They were:

Technologies for treatment (pharmaceutical and biomedical cellular products)

1st place: Moltech, an innovative c-Src/Sky kinase inhibitor for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other degenerative-dystrophic and autoimmune joint diseases

2nd place: Target Medicals for CRYSTA, a tech platform for novel drug discovery

3rd place: Pamdeca, a system for activating innate anticancer immunity

Technologies for diagnosis (test systems, medical devices and target delivery of drugs)

1st place: Brain Beat, a non-invasive glucometer

2nd place: Lumline, a method of visualizing tumours

3rd place: Microneedle Industrial, a system of using bioresorptive microneedle applicators for the painless transdermal delivery of vaccines and medicine

“It’s called the final of the competition, but it’s actually only the beginning,” Irina Panarina, general manager of AstraZeneca in Russia and Eurasia, told the competition finalists at the Skolkovo Technopark on Thursday.

“All of our activities are focused on innovation. Our company’s mission is to find innovative solutions to life-threatening illnesses including cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes,” she told the finalists ahead of their pitch sessions to a jury that included pharmacology professors, representatives of accelerators and Russian Venture Company, and David Weston, digital programme lead at AstraZeneca in the U.K

The companies that made it through to the accelerator programme will now work on their projects under the supervision of mentors from AstraZeneca, and will have the chance to discuss research stages with experts in the relevant treatment fields. Early-stage teams will get a place sponsored by AstraZeneca in the Sk BioLab hack space at the Skolkovo Technopark for six months, while more mature companies will undergo a business skills training programme titled 100 Days of Growth for Biomed Startups. The acceleration programme will culminate in a demo day in December at AstraZeneca in Moscow attended by profile venture funds, including Primer Capital.

Brain Beat CEO Edward Krizhanovsky, who won the diagnosis category with his non-invasive glucometer, told following the announcement of the winners that he saw several potential advantages of taking part in the accelerator with AstraZeneca.

“Firstly, we’d really like to make use of the mentor support, as their advice would undoubtedly help us a lot with the project,” he said.

“Secondly, we’d really like to use AstraZeneca’s distribution channels, because they already have a well developed distribution channel of products for diabetics, and it would be great to integrate our product into that.”

Krizhanovsky said BrainBeat would also consider selling its license to AstraZeneca.

Panarina promised that AstraZeneca would share its considerable expertise with the startups, noting that the pharmaceutical giant took first place in the global pharma innovation index this year.

“In the 25 years we’ve been on the Russian market, we have brought out 40 innovative drugs, we have our own production. Now we understand that’s not enough,” she said.

“We really rate the human capital and research capital that there is in Russia. And we really believe that together we can make breakthrough discoveries here: we can identify molecules, innovative ways of drug delivery, diagnosis methods that will be developed not only for the Russian market, but for the global market,” said Panarina, adding that AstraZeneca would not forget the other companies it has met along the way during the competition.

Kirill Kaem, senior vice president for innovations of the Skolkovo Foundation, said that neither the Skolkovo Foundation nor AstraZeneca had expected such a large number of applications.

"All of our activities are focused on innovation. Our company’s mission is to find innovative solutions to life-threatening illnesses including cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes" - Irina Panarina, general manager of AstraZeneca in Russia and Eurasia.

The thirty finalists, he said “are already winners. They are already part of that big virtual flowerbed [of projects] that big pharma will water and watch how they grow, watch their progress – even if they don’t win. They went through the bootcamp, so thanks to their efforts have definitely improved their work, and this will be useful for them in any case,” said Kaem, adding that they would also get valuable feedback from AstraZeneca.

In preparation for the competition final, earlier this month the startups took part in a bootcamp aimed at helping the companies make their pitches as professional and effective as possible.

The 30 selected finalists included both early-stage teams and mature projects, and about half of them were Skolkovo Foundation residents, the rest being external companies, said Kamila Zarubina, acceleration director within the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster.

Those companies that are not already Skolkovo residents can now apply for residency status and will be given full support to do so, said Zarubina.

The acceleration programme is the result of ongoing cooperation between AstraZeneca and the Skolkovo Foundation, which last year signed a strategic partnership agreement on carrying out scientific research and educational work across Russia, including in the field of bioinformatics and development of medicine.

AstraZeneca opened a $224 million drug manufacturing and packaging factory in Russia’s Kaluga region back in October 2015. The company invests about 25 percent of its turnover in R&D, Panarina said Thursday.