From seabed to sick-bed: 'deep-sea drugs' spearheaded by new company

New drugs created using enzymes from reef-dwelling marine organisms which may be used to fight cancer, inflammatory and auto-immune diseases, will be spearheaded by a new company formed from research carried out at the universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews.

The two Chemistry teams have developed a revolutionary new method for creating a new class of therapeutic drugs, called macrocycles, which are complex to create and can address a large number of poorly treated conditions.

Macrocycles can act against such hard-to-drug targets in a similar way to biologics (genetically-engineered proteins derived from human genes), such as therapeutic antibodies, but with additional benefits including oral administration and reduced cost of manufacture.

Professor Marcel Jaspars from the University of Aberdeen and Professor Jim Naismith from the University of St Andrews have joined with experienced company builder Dr Bill Primrose to form Ripptide Pharma Ltd.

Professor Jaspars said: “Current methodology for creating macrocycles is based on either purely chemical synthetic procedures, which are inefficient, or those based within living cells, where the range and diversity of the macrocycles that can be generated is limited.

“The new technology is based on a set of enzymes, isolated from marine organisms – blue green algae living inside sea squirts - which can create and modify macrocycles.  Using a knowledge of the structures and mechanisms of these enzymes, we have engineered them for higher activity so that they can be used in a chemoenzymatic manufacturing process.  We are now able to produce complex molecules in two weeks, compared to six months previously.

“These will be particularly effective in treating conditions where the therapy relies on the disruption of protein-protein interactions.  This type of drug target is often difficult to pursue with conventional ‘small molecule’ drugs.”

Close collaboration between the two research groups over six years has generated a technology which is now ready for commercial exploitation.  This is being funded by the Scottish Enterprise High Growth Spin-Out Programme which is supporting the team to generate a set of novel macrocycles, test them against some industry-accepted drug targets, establish the company and secure appropriate investment.

Ripptide Pharma Ltd was incorporated in September 2015 to commercialise the technology.  The company will run a hybrid business model, signing collaborative discovery deals with a select number of quality pharmaceutical companies in their disease areas, bringing revenue and external validation, whilst developing its own drugs against its in-house targets.

Ripptide presented its technology on January 13, 2016 at Biotech Showcase, held during the J. P. Morgan 34th Annual Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, a meeting attended by more than 15,000 industry professionals, including Pharma representatives and investors.

Bill Primrose, Director of Ripptide said: "I have known Marcel and Jim's work for a number of years and am delighted to be given the opportunity to spearhead its commercialisation.  Its potential is shown by the considerable interest we have already received from potential Pharma partners."

Eleanor Mitchell, Director of High Growth Ventures at Scottish Enterprise, said: “The Ripptide project is funded under our High-Growth Spinout Programme, Scottish Enterprise’s approach to supporting the commercialisation of innovative technologies emerging from Scotland's universities, research institutes and NHS Boards. The new approach builds on the success of the Proof of Concept Programme putting an even greater emphasis on engaging earlier with international customers and investors in order to support the creation of new high-growth companies with the potential to scale globally. We are very excited to be supporting a project with the potential to create high value jobs in Scotland and to provide such significant value-add to Scotland’s Life Sciences industry.”