By Kristy Dorsey

A Scottish company has struck a university partnership to look at ways of expanding its process for manufacturing natural nutritional ingredients into the production of treatments for coronaviruses and other pathogens.

A £100,000 award from Medical Research Scotland will fund a four-year PhD project in which the Infection Medicine centre at the University of Edinburgh will investigate how cyanobacterial extracts from algae can be commercially mass produced using processes developed by Lanarkshire-based ScotBio. This could lead to the creation and manufacture of treatments for future pandemics caused by the likes of Zika virus, Ebola, MERS and SARS-CoV-2.

Based at BioCity in Motherwell, and with a purpose-built manufacturing facility in Lockerbie, ScotBio creates natural colourants, plant-based proteins and nutritional ingredients used by the food, cosmetics, textile and pharmaceutical industries. This is derived from algae which is traditionally grown in pond systems, which are seasonal and subject to environmental contamination.

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ScotBio has developed indoor vessel-based systems for growing the algae from which it gets its cyanobacteria, which research has found can interfere with viral transmission and modulate the immune system response to infection.

“The current coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately shown that there is a deficit of ‘on the shelf’ antiviral compounds with broad activity against a range of viruses,” said Richard Sloan, a lecturer in infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh. “There viral outbreaks are unfortunately normal, and to be expected, so it is important that this therapeutic deficit is addressed.”

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Rocky Kindt, chief technical officer at ScotBio, said the antiviral potential in cyanobacteria was discovered by some of the company’s scientists when they were reviewing their own work and other literature during the first lockdown last year. Building on previous research, the new project will investigate what specific role cyanobacteria might have against emerging pathogens likely to cause pandemics.

“The overall aim of this new research project with the University of Edinburgh is to identify the antiviral therapeutics that can be extracted from cyanobacteria and subsequently devise methods for their commercial mass production,” Mr Kindt said. “It is something that we are all very excited about.”

The research project will formally begin at the University of Edinburgh in September, but ScotBio said it has already accelerated its in-house research to make sure that when the project begins it is already at an advanced stage.