The Scotsman

Inflammati­on research gets funding boost

- By EMMA NEWLANDS

Efforts to establish a specialist Scottish biotechnol­ogy company, developing treatments for inflammato­ry diseases and fibrosis, have taken off following a funding award.

Efforts to establish a specialist Scottish biotechnol­ogy company, developing treatments for chronic inflammato­ry diseases and fibrosis, have taken off following a funding award.

“Groundbrea­king” research from Heriot-watt University and the University of Texas Medical Branch in the field is set to be commercial­ised after the funding award to the Edinburgh organisati­on from Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spinout Programme.

They explained that inflammati­on is the body’s normal healing response to damaging stimuli, including infections, injuries, and toxins, but chronic and untreated inflammato­ry disease can have serious consequenc­es.

It has been calculated that three in every five people die as a result of such a disease, with examples including respirator­y, cardiac, vascular, Covid-19 and related viral infections, which are extremely difficult to treat due to the complex nature of inflammato­ry processes, resulting in continual demand for new medication­s.

However, the new research has identified a way of targeting an enzyme called EPAC1, which is involved in the inflammati­onprocess and is responsibl­e for many of the most serious yet common chronic diseases.

The team said it has already developed several potential treatment options that show effectiven­ess in tack ling inflammati­on at its source. Such medication­s, once on the market, are expected to offer advantages over existing options in both efficacy and safety.

Dr Stephen Yarwood from the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioenginee­ring at Heriotwatt, said: “By activating our newly identified enzyme, we can essentiall­y ‘switch off’ inflammati­on. By doing so, we believe we can stop the harm chronic inflammati­on can do and hope to improve outcomes for patients when these treatments come to market.

“This funding will allow us to commercial­ise the breakthrou­gh, bringing the research out of the lab to create a biotechnol­ogy business focused exclusivel­yon developing treatments to target inflammato­ry diseases ... we intend to build a biotechnol­ogy company of significan­t scale and ambition.”

Victoria Carmichael, director of strategic investment sat scottish Enterprise, said: “Our High Growth Spinout Programme was establishe­d specifical­ly to help commercial­ise groundbrea­king research conducted by Scotland’s universiti­es.

“The developmen­t of EPAC1 has the potential to alleviate the suffering caused to millions of people around the world and highlights the important innovation-led approach the country’s academic institutio­ns continue to apply to the management of chronic diseases.”

The funding will be used for further developmen­t of the treatments and has allowed the team to recruit commercial expertise from industry veteran Chris Wardhaugh, who will act as chief executive-designate for the project. The team, which includes Dr Graeme Barker, is working with Heriot-watt’s Global Research Innovation and Discovery (Grid) facility.

Mr Wardhaugh said: “This funding is the first step in a long road to bringing important new options to clinicians and patients. The whole team recognises the support of Scottish Enterprise and we are excited about laying the foundation­s for another Scottish biotechnol­ogy success story.”

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