Venture capitalists will tell you that the company they enter is rarely the same one from which they exit. What they mean is that the business will have substantially changed direction, either in terms of its product, its market, or both.

Oxford University spin-out CMP Therapeutics set out to develop a nasal spray to combat seasonal allergies like hay fever. That same spray is now being further developed to ease the common cold.

CMP was founded in 2005 by the university’s Dr Peter Strong of the Medical Research Council’s histochemistry unit, and Oxfordshire serial entrepreneur Bruce Savage.

The technology was based on chitins, a glucose derivative found in many places in the world, including the walls of fungi and the shells of crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps.

Chitins are a far more familiar product than most of us realise. When converted, they become a long-chain sugar called chitozan, which is used as thickener in many foods and a frothing agent in beers.

Dr Strong and his team used chitins from Icelandic shrimp shells and devised a method of making these into tiny particles suitable for nasal inhalation.

The spray was targeted to engender a mild immunological response from the body and so counter the allergy.

The standard method of targeting an allergy is by vaccine, one vaccine per allergy. This can present the problem of far too strong an immune response, and such vaccines have had an uncertain history.

Because the nasal spray was classed as a prescription drug, it had to undergo clinical trials. A successful Phase I trial was followed by a Phase II trial in 2009 at Hammersmith Hospital involving 200 patients.

But such a trial required a summer with a high pollen count and in 2009, pollen count was low. As a result, results were inconclusive.

At this point, investors sat back to take stock. The funders were, and still are, Inventages Venture Capital and New Zealand-based BioPacific Ventures. Inventages is the corporate venturing arm of Nestle, with a fund of £960m.

As a seasoned founder of start-ups, Bruce Savage has a standard modus operandi. He helps to found a company, takes it to a certain point, then hands over the baton to someone better placed to take it to the next stage.

By agreement, Mr Savage and Dr Strong stepped aside and Dr Neill Mackenzie was appointed chief executive in April this year. Backed by a convertible loan of £1.25m from Inventages and BioPacific, Dr Mackenzie is now focusing the chitin spray on colds and flu.

Being a polysaccharide, a sugar, the spray is sticky. Dosing is by one of the many readily available nasal inhalers. The spray coats the nasal passages and acts as a nasal irrigant, easing the soreness often experienced by cold sufferers.

In addition, the coating helps prevent viruses entering the system.

A rival spray is already on the market at Boots. Called First Defence, it originally contained zinc, but this element was deleted over fears of the metal’s link to Alzheimer’s disease.

The spray will be an over-the counter medicine. Its safety has already been proven in the clinical trials, so all that is now required is a registration. Manufacturing will be to the highest standards, to the international Good Manufacturing Practice protocol.

Nestle is also conducting research into the chitins. It is one of many food manufacturers who have realised that foods can affect the body in more ways than just pure nutrition.

The company’s research will examine whether the chitins have beneficial effects on allergies generally, rather than just the seasonal ones targeted by the spray.

Once the registration for the spray has been obtained, CMP will take the classical route of engaging with a suitable partner to market and sell the product.

A completely virtual company, CMP’s only employee is Dr Mackenzie. Manufacturing is outsourced, while some cell research is being undertaken by King’s College.

Dr Mackenzie can boast a strong pedigree with Oxford University spinout firms. He co-founded Oxford Biomedica and introduced its cancer vaccine TroVax.

His second company was spin-out Avidex, which was then sold to Medigene of Germany and subsequently bought back.

Dr Mackenzie said: “Long-term, we want to look at allergies again and the intra-nasal effects of chitins.

“But right now, we’re focused on getting our product into the market.”

Name: CMP Therapeutics Established: 2005 Chief executive: Dr Neill Mackenzie Number of staff: One Annual turnover: Confidential

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