Z Factor Limited is a drug discovery company founded in 2015 to identify and develop therapeutic agents to treat alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. The company was created by Index Ventures in partnership with the University of Cambridge.
Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic disorder that affects 1 in 2,000 people of European descent. The most common disease-causing mutation is the Z-variant. Z alpha-1-antitrypsin is fully functional when secreted, but most of the protein misfolds and accumulates in liver cells as polymers. People suffering from alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can present either early in life or late in life with liver cirrhosis. However, the most common manifestation of alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is emphysema, generally diagnosed in midlife. Current treatments are limited to lung or liver transplantation and augmentation therapy, whereby protein purified from normal blood is repeatedly administered via weekly intravenous infusions.
Z Factor is exploiting insight into the structure of the Z-variant of alpha-1-antitrypsin derived from research conducted in the laboratory of Professor Jim Huntington at the University of Cambridge. Z Factor is therefore uniquely placed to design and develop novel therapeutic agents to correct the misfolding of the Z variant and to thereby address an important and unmet medical need.
After spending 15 years at Cambridge University leading an internationally-recognised laboratory investigating the causes of coronary heart disease, David founded Funxional Therapeutics, where he became the Chief Scientific Officer, developing FX125L, a novel anti-inflammatory agent for the treatment of asthma and other diseases with a chronic inflammatory component. Following the sale of FX125L in July 2012, David joined Index Ventures as a Venture Partner, where he was responsible for the creation, development and sale of XO1 and the creation of E3Bio.
Jim Huntington graduated in 1989 from the University of Kansas with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and mathematics. During this time he worked as a research assistant in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department and at the Merck subsidiary InterX under Takeru Higuchi, Ooi Wong and Jose Alexander. He subsequently worked as a chemist at Alza Corporation in California for three years. He obtained a PhD from Vanderbilt University in 1997 for work on the biophysical characterisation of members of the serpin family of proteins with Peter Gettins. His research on the serpins continued during his postdoc with Robin Carrell at the University of Cambridge, where he used X-ray crystallography to determine the mechanisms of serpin function. He was appointed principal investigator at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research in 1999, University Reader in 2007 and Professor in 2011. His research focuses on serpin function and dysfunction, and on the regulation of blood coagulation. He has founded four biotech companies, including XO1, ApcinteX, Z Factor and Cambridge Protein Works.