Major funding award for graduate and University spinout company researcher

A drug discovery expert and University of Aberdeen lecturer has been awarded prestigious funding to help further the development of treatments for life-changing inflammatory diseases.

Dr Obinna Ubah heads up Scottish biotechnology company Elasmogen Ltd’s auto-immune and anti-inflammation research efforts, and also teaches at the University of Aberdeen.

He has received a £2 million research award, of which £1.57 million is a grant from the UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) Scheme to further his pioneering studies. The Future Leaders Fellowships program is a highly competitive scheme designed specifically to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across the UK.

Dr Ubah, who completed his Masters and PhD at the University of Aberdeen has already used Elasmogen’s drug discovery capabilities to isolate “next-generation” drugs with the potential to be 10x more effective than existing therapies for diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS), whilst at the same time showing early evidence of reducing some of the side-effects experienced by patients on long-term therapy. 

With this new funding Dr Ubah believes that he can now go even further and faster and make additional improvements so that these drugs can neutralise more than one drug target at the same time, minimising the chance that therapies will fail; and, through research partnerships, these powerful drugs could be delivered as a pill at home, rather than the current need for repeated hospital visits and injections.

Dr Ubah commented:  I am enormously grateful to have successfully secured this UKRI fellowship.  It was a long application journey which started in March of 2020 and was complicated by the global pandemic and lockdowns.  However, the entire process has been an enormously rewarding experience. I want to thank the FLF team, peer reviewers and panel members for all their time and effort in such difficult circumstances. Now I can’t wait to get started with the task of developing some of the exciting science innovation that has been funded, and attempt to deliver safer and more effective biologics (protein based) treatment for some of the most debilitating autoimmune, inflammatory diseases. 

Dr Ubah added: “The management of chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBD, psoriasis, and RA has significantly improved over the last decade with the clinical availability of biologic drugs. Despite this undoubted treatment success, a combination of acquired resistance together with an increased risk of systemic complications, means that a significant number of patients either fail to find a suitable therapy or frustratingly discover that an approach that did work is no longer effective.  Whilst working in Elasmogen I have isolated a new class of super-neutralising biologics, the building blocks (called variable new antigen receptor or VNARs) were originally derived from a blood sample taken from a shark.  The simple, protein architecture of VNARs allows for easy and multiple reformatting options. Through reformatting, I have achieved a 50,000-fold enhancement in efficacy in what we call our soloMER Quad X™ formats.

Dr Caroline Barelle (CEO/CSO Elasmogen Ltd). added, “We could not be more proud of Dr Ubah’s achievements.  This fellowship is a fitting reward for all his hard work, the innovative approaches he has taken in his research and the global network of colleagues he has established that are eager to collaborate, mentor and form partnerships.  However, this is not only a great outcome for Dr Ubah but also for Elasmogen Ltd, Aberdeen and Scotland. The success of Dr Ubah’s award reinforces Aberdeen city as a centre of excellence in business-led, drug discovery and biologics in particular.” 

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