By Kristy Dorsey

A medical spin-out from the University of Aberdeen has secured two six-figure grants that have saved the firm from a potentially “company-ending break” during lockdown restrictions.

Caroline Barelle, chief executive of Elasmogen, said the drug discovery firm was in a “really, really concerning situation” after its scientists were barred for more than a month from facilities on the university campus. After hastily being sent home on March 20 with no access to lab equipment, virtually all research work on Elasmogen’s soloMER drug conjugates for the treatment of cancer came to a halt.

The firm was only able to start bringing its scientists back in stages from May 11 after landing a £143,000 grant from the Scottish Government to use its drug discovery platform to accelerate the development of new diagnostics for Covid-19. The project, a joint undertaking with the university’s Scottish Biologics Facility, paved the way to re-open Elasmogen’s laboratories.

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This was followed in late June by a further £204,000 injection from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which handles funding from the science budget of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The UKRI Continuity Grant will support an existing partnership between Elasmogen and Almac Discovery, who are combining their technologies to more effectively destroy solid cancer tumours.

“We are so grateful to the UK and Scottish Governments for believing in and funding our research during such a difficult time,” Ms Barelle said. “The team have worked so hard to achieve these successes out of what could have been a company-ending break.”

Although Elasmogen was able to access salary support for its four scientists while they were furloughed, the long-term nature of its work meant it wasn’t suitable for other emergency small business aid that required loan repayments.

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At the same time, the halt in research work also led to a delay in drawing down the latest tranche of money from Elasmogen’s investors at Deepbridge Capital. Payments from the £2m fundraising announced in January are made in instalments based on hitting certain development milestones.

“They still fully support us, but people are being very, very careful with their money right now, which I totally understand,” Ms Barelle said.