Spin-out company seeks medicines from South American rain forests

Deal between British and Brazilian companies to harness new drug discovery technology

A British drug discovery company which has developed the world's fastest drug profiling system has joined forces with a Brazilian company to seek new medicines from the South American rain forests.

At a time when the number of new drugs in the world's development pipeline has dwindled, the British company e-Therapeutics has formed a partnership with Brazilian company Grupo TCI to establish a joint research facility close to the Amazonian and Atlantic rain forests, to start testing substances from the millions of plants in the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.

New medicines are needed to combat a range of diseases which threaten to reach pandemic levels, including drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and virus infections like avian flu. New drugs are also being sought for tropical diseases which occur in Brazil, such as hepatitis C, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis.

In a separate deal, e-Therapeutics is joining forces with CURA, a pharmaceutical consortium backed by the Brazilian Government, which is establishing a cluster of drug discovery, development and marketing industries in North East Brazil. This will give e-Therapeutics a base from which to access to Brazilian pharmaceutical companies.

e-Therapeutics was spun out of Newcastle University in 2003 by Professor Malcolm Young, who developed new 'systems biology' techniques which can accurately predict the biological effect of any substance on any human tissue and on pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. He attracted more than 10m research funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and other organisations to turn his ideas into practice.

Professor Young demonstrated the effectiveness of its technology by correctly predicting the effects of known drugs, such as 103 known antibiotics. But it also uncovered unknown antibiotics, which are now entering drug development.

e-Therapeutics is not alone in hunting for rain forest medicines but has the advantage of a system which typically takes only two weeks to assess a substance, as opposed to two years by conventional processes.

Professor Young, who is now Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Newcastle University, said: 'This is a fantastic opportunity to investigate Brazil's colossal biodiversity with our cutting edge technology. There is enormous potential for drug discovery in the rain forests, where there are millions of plant species, many of which produce bioactive chemicals.'

Roberto Marinho Filho, President of Grupo TCI, said: 'This new partnership will enable us to access our rich resource of natural compounds and, through e-Therapeutics novel technology, determine the medical use of these natural compounds. This will open the current bottlenecks in developing new drugs. We will be using the world's fastest compound profiling system, so the process of discovery of medicines, which can reduce the two years required currently for these processes to about two weeks.'

e-Therapeutics was able to link up to the Brazilian companies with the assistance of the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), an organisation formed by the 200 Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, Speciality, Commodity and Petrochemical companies based in the North East of England. NEPIC says that it intends to provide industrial connections and support for e-Therapeuitics as it grows. Funding for e-Therapeutics has included a 90,000 investment from NStar, an independent early stage technology venturing company, via its Proof of Concept Fund (POC) in 2004. This helped to accelerate the development of e-Therapeutics by financing research and demonstrating the company's capabilities in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology markets.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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