A Scottish biotech company has reported what are described as "promising initial results" from efforts to extract a cure for the common cold from algae.

Livingston-based ScotBio is looking at how waste molecules from spirulina, the blue-green algae widely consumed as a superfood, could be turned into a treatment for the cold, Covid-19 and a host of other viruses. It is working with the University of Edinburgh, Robert Gordon University, and the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) at how to harness the antiviral properties of these molecules.

Spirulina is already used in the commercial production of a variety of products, including as a dietary supplement and for food colourants. By separating spirulina molecules into different chemical groups, the partners have identified the most effective antiviral extracts against coronaviruses, common cold viruses, and influenza.

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"Working with the project consortium has enabled us to fractionate spirulina into distinct chemical groups and then screen the extracts in a safe environment," ScotBio development manager Joe Palmer said.

"Through that, we have identified compounds that could be particularly effective against a broad range of viruses from what was previously seen as waste. We can now work on recovering and purifying these molecules as high-value ingredients."

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

“The next step for us is to better understand the market opportunities for these molecules and to fully resolve the relationship between molecule chemistry and their antiviral mechanisms," Mr Palmer added.

"Our aim is for this project to be a catalyst that will unlock a large and untapped market, helping in the fight against common viruses and future pandemics.”