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Ireland-UK, EIT Health Ireland-UK

Conversations with our Network: HAON Life Science

11th January 2024

In the newest edition of our Conversations with our Network series, we connect with Moayed Hamza and Mark O’Neill, founders of HAON Life Science. The team reached the finals of EIT Health’s Wild Card competition in 2023. HAON Life Science focuses on developing a cell therapy platform using two cell types extracted from healthy placentas. The platform helps in identifying cells with the highest therapeutic potential, generating an off-the-shelf product for various medical conditions, including neurological issues and rare diseases.  

Moayed, a medical graduate with a specialization in clinical research, entered the field of drug development driven by pure curiosity. As he delved deeper into the field, he discovered the immense potential to effect substantial change in patients’ lives. Mark, a chartered accountant and management consultant, brings a wealth of experience with a 12-year background in the industry in various C-suite positions.

Together, as a dynamic team, Mark and Moayed are navigating the journey from conceptualizing ideas to advancing them through clinical development. The name “HAON” means “one” in Irish. The founders chose this name with the idea of using their combined expertise to empower vulnerable families, eventually growing into a large biotech company that develops drugs to reduce suffering globally.  

During our discussion, we explored their journey to date, and learned about HAON Life Science’s focus on cell therapy and its transformative potential in healthcare. 

Q1. What inspired your interest in the field of drug development and cell therapy? 

What has particularly captured our attention in recent times is the potential of cell therapy. The concept of therapy goes beyond incremental improvements; it seeks to bring about a transformative change in a patient’s life. This philosophy resonated with us, and it is the driving force behind our keen interest and pursuit of advancements in cell therapy. 

Collaborating together previously, we have taken ideas from the conceptual stage, progressed through the preclinical phase, and advanced into clinical development. This journey has involved running clinical trials around the world and engaging with regulatory agencies, bringing us to where we are today.  

Q2. What is the mission behind your novel cell therapy platform? 

HAON Life Science is a biotech start-up focused on developing a cell therapy platform, and the story begins with two key components. Our primary objective was to explore the next steps that could transform a promising idea into a significant and impactful treatment. 

In the second part of our journey, we initiated collaboration with Dr. Jatin Patel, a stem cell biologist and Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani, leading stem cell expert and his research group at the University of Queensland, renowned for their ten years of work in specific stem cells. This collaboration became the foundation for establishing HAON Life Science. 

Our approach involves utilising healthy placentas that would typically be discarded. Leveraging our Can-vas platform, we isolate cells with the highest therapeutic potential. From these cells, we generate an allogeneic or off-the-shelf product that can be produced at scale. Essentially, our platform serves as the groundwork for developing treatments spanning various adult and paediatric conditions, encompassing neurological disorders and rare diseases. 

Furthermore, our lead condition is neonatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Q3. Why did you develop a therapeutic platform specifically for neonatal HIE? 

It’s a type of new-born brain injury that occurs before or shortly after birth due to any factor leading to reduced oxygen reaching the baby’s brain. This condition is often not widely discussed, yet it stands as one of the major contributors to infant mortality and long-term disability, globally. Statistics show that up to five in every 1000 births are affected, resulting in a significant burden of infant deaths and long-term disabilities, including cerebral palsy. 

Currently, the primary treatment supported by evidence for this condition is therapeutic hypothermia or cooling. This involves lowering a baby’s body temperature for a specific duration to mitigate damage. While this approach proves effective for some cases, unfortunately, it does not yield positive results for many, leaving a substantial portion without viable treatment options.

Hence, there exists a considerable unmet need for the development of new therapies that can provide some benefit, given the scale of the problem. 

Q4. How does your therapy potentially impact the treatment of HIE?

This therapy utilizes two stem cells to create an off-the-shelf treatment, a critical aspect considering the importance of early intervention and the narrow treatment window in neonatal HIE. Our focus is on developing an intranasal cell therapy product that can be easily administered in the early stages. Our excitement stems from preclinical data indicating that our cell therapy effectively targets key mechanisms leading to brain damage in HIE. 

While clinical trials are necessary to precisely measure the benefits, the hope arises from the possibility that our therapy could alter the long-term trajectory of care. This means a potential reduction in both infant deaths and long-term issues for patients, emphasizing the positive impact of cell therapy, particularly with the specific cells included in our approach. 

Q5. You recently reached the finals of the EIT Health Wild Card competition. What were your highlights from the programme? 

EIT Health’s Wild Card provided us with valuable attention and an extensive network. During the programme, we received significant attention, engaging in intense mentoring sessions and obtaining diverse opinions. Managing various perspectives, considering our different backgrounds in medical and financial domains, proved challenging but highly beneficial.  

The networking aspect was equally rewarding. Establishing connections with companies like Myndgard from Ireland and the Belgian start-up, Innocens which brings a relevant background to our work, proved insightful. We continue to stay connected with these start-ups, finding their input highly valuable. 

Wild Card not only took us out of our comfort zone but exposed us to diverse perspectives, challenging our assumptions and ultimately strengthening our company. As a result, we find ourselves in a more robust position today compared to a few months ago, thanks to the intense focus fostered by the programme. 

Q. Where do you see HAON Life Science in 5-10 years? 

In the next year, we’re signing new strategic partnerships and progressing towards  our first approval for the Canvas platform in HIE.

In 5-10 years, HAON Life Science envisions itself as a leading biotech player, particularly in the field of cell therapy. We aim to achieve significant milestones, with a focus on treating rare paediatric conditions like HIE.

 The bigger goal is to advance the platform not only in paediatric indications but also in the adult space, addressing a range of medical conditions. 

If you would like to learn more from the founders of HAON Life Sciences, listen to Myndgard’s podcast with HAON here or contact info@haonco.com

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