Incanthera PLC’s (LON:INC) founder and chief executive, Simon Ward, has a point when he says listing this year was an achievement.

Pretty much everything that could be was thrown at it, was. Brexit, political turmoil, volatile markets and then the coronavirus outbreak.

Indeed, the cancer treatment specialist is one of only a handful of companies that have braved the markets in 2020 and one of even fewer that have floated on the Nex Growth Exchange, now named Aquis (AQSE Growth Market).

The company was founded by Ward as a spin-out from the Institute of Cancer Therapeutics (‘ICT’) at Bradford University, which also gives the company its name (In CanThera) and Ward believes it is breaking new ground in the area of skin and other cancers.

Ahead of the listing, Incanthera raised £1.2mn at 9.5p from new institutional investors, existing shareholders and management, money that has been earmarked to fund the development of Sol, its novel cream to treat and prevent skin cancer.

Ward is convinced about the potential for both the product and his company.

Suncare products are a global market worth US$14bn and just a fraction of that would mean an ‘awful lot of money’ for Incanthera, he says.

Sol is a novel formulation that pushes through the skin to get the active ingredient to the treatment area.

In achieving that, he believes Incanthera has cracked what even the major pharmas have been unable to manage.

It’s all about delivery.

“It’s a very clever formulation. It’s been almost impossible previously to get the type of active drugs that are effective against melanoma through the skin.

“They’ve always been taken orally before, but the most logical way to treat a condition of the skin is to treat it topically.

“That’s the clever thing about Sol and that’s what is getting the industry excited.”

Ward has a professional background in dermatology and was approached about the development by one of his former colleagues who made the breakthrough working on his own after retiring.

He called Ward, who has since had the formulation verified by the London School of Pharmacy.

There the technology not only matched, but surpassed the penetration abilities through the skin barrier, versus oral dosing (bio-equivalence study), and crucially showed rates of efficacy far superior in reaching the treatment area.

Commercial partner

Now, with the IP fully patent-protected, Incanthera is looking for a commercial partner.

Ward expects that might be a cosmetic company rather than a pharma as the route to market is shorter with fewer regulatory requirements, meaning more immediate returns and publicising the technology for future potential opportunity.

One of the large cosmetic companies would be likely to integrate Sol into its suntan creams, Ward believes.

But there is an additional benefit in that Sol not only addresses the causes of sunspots or solar keratosis, one of the main sources of skin cancer, it can reverse them as well.

That would make it an ideal preventative additive to a day-to-day moisturiser.

Finding the right partner for Sol is the immediate focus but the company’s ambitions don’t end there.

It also has first rights of access to all new technologies emerging from the ICT in an exclusive 10-year pipeline deal.

Along with its existing portfolio of cancer-targeting therapeutics, it is seeking partnerships to commercialise these technologies into revenues and royalties for further development and deployment into the portfolio and to generate returns for shareholders.

Incanthera’s strategy is to acquire, prepare and commercialise.

“The model is to build a portfolio of revenue-generating licences not a series of never-ending clinical studies,” says Ward.

That is a big difference from many other small-cap biotechs, he adds.

The oncology focus also tends to invite an earlier license partner than other therapeutic areas.

In Phase 1 trials for cancer treatments, he explains, the study tends to be on patients rather than healthy volunteers so there is some efficacy as well as a safety response.

This, in turn, attracts partners at an earlier stage as they usually wish to see signs of efficacy and safety before entering into deals.

Shares currently trade at 11.55p.