By Karen Peattie

BREAKTHROUGH treatment for inflammatory disease – led by Heriot-Watt University – is set for commercialisation following funding from Scottish Enterprise’s (SE) High Growth Spinout Programme.

This new funding, awarded to researchers at the Edinburgh university, is the first step towards establishing a specialist Scottish biotechnology company developing treatments for chronic inflammatory diseases and fibrosis, a condition which causes tissue to become abnormally thick or scarred.

The research has identified a way of targeting the called EPAC1, which plays a role in the inflammation process and is responsible for many serious yet common chronic diseases.

Heriot-Watt, working with the University of Texas Medical Branch, has already developed several potential new treatment options that show effectiveness in tackling inflammation at its source.

Once they reach the market, these medications are expected to offer advantages over existing medications in both efficacy and safety.

Dr Stephen Yarwood, from the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering at Heriot-Watt University, explained: “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 exclusively on developing treatments to target inflammatory diseases.

“Support of this nature is essential to help academics like us to commercialise our research.”

The funding will be used to further develop the treatments and has also allowed the team to recruit commercial expertise from industry veteran Chris Wardhaugh who will act as a CEO designate for the project.

Scottish Enterprise's High Growth Spinout Programme was established specifically to help commercialise groundbreaking research conducted by Scotland’s universities.

Victoria Carmichael, director of strategic investments, said: “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 to further development the treatments and has also allowed the team to recruit commercial expertise from industry veteran Chris Wardhaugh who will act as a CEO designate for the project.

He described the funding as the “first step in a long road to bringing important new options to clinicians and patients”, noting: “The whole team recognises the support of Scottish Enterprise in encouraging the commercialisation of new research and we are excited about the prospects of laying the foundations for another Scottish biotechnology success story.”

The team, which includes Dr Graeme Barker, is working closely with the £19 million Global Research Innovation and Discovery (GRID) facility at Heriot-Watt.

Paul Devlin, head of commercialisation at Heriot-Watt University, said the funding will help accelerate the impact of academic discovery on the daily lives of people affected by a wide range of life-changing and life-limiting diseases.

“With Heriot-Watt’s expertise in delivering commercial, strategic and innovation support, coupled with the financial backing of Scottish Enterprise, we look forward to growing this research into an exciting, profitable, world-class business,” he said.

“Our GRID facility provides a highly collaborative environment for academics to build dynamic companies out of their research, bringing together a diverse talent pool combined with teaching and learning opportunities for our students.

“This new company will be formed in an ideal location with strong connections to Scotland’s thriving life sciences sector. We look forward to working in partnership to access appropriate talent, R&D and investment opportunities to aid its expansion.”