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Battle to beat the bugs wins bio-firm top honour


A fledgling bio-business developing products to combat deadly hospital infections like MRSA has won a prestigious industry award.

Ai2, a University of Manchester spin-out company incorporated in April this year, took the Biotechnology Start-Up of the Year prize at the Northwest Regional Development Agency’s Bionow awards.

The company, set up by Dr Curtis Dobson in the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, specialises in the development of novel antibacterial compounds.

“My work concerns chemicals called apolipovirs that have demonstrated both antimicrobial and antiviral qualities,” said Dr Dobson, who last year won Bionow’s Project of the Year for the same research.

“These compounds have been shown to be highly effective at killing bugs and so could have applications in the coating of medical devices and instruments.

“We also believe these chemicals could be developed into anti-fungal creams and barrier technologies in the fight against hospital infections like MRSA.”

But, says Dr Dobson, the first application for the anti-infective compounds is likely to be in the coating of contact lenses to prevent eye infections.

Longer-term, the company hopes the compounds can be developed into antiviral drugs that could treat diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

“In the lab, apolipovirs have been shown to attack the HIV virus before it can attach itself to the cell and so, in theory, could kill off the virus completely.

“This way of fighting viruses outside the cell has been overlooked in the past and so a lot more research is needed.

“Whether antiviral drugs will provide a cure on their own remains to be seen but that will be a focus of the next stage of our work.”

Dr Dobson’s studies stem from work he originally carried out with colleagues at the University that looked at the role viruses play in certain forms of dementia.

“It was through studying the interaction of human proteins with viruses that the apolipovir compounds were discovered.

“We found that a class of human proteins involved in immunity were rich in anti-infective activity, which has led to this powerful peptide-based antimicrobial technology.

“We have already developed compounds 10 times stronger than the original chemicals we tested and have filed four patent applications.

“We are now looking to put together a programme of further tests which will be the final stage of the pre-clinical work.”

The project is being managed by the University’s intellectual property company UMIP.

Project manager Gordon Barker said: “Ai2 aims to become a significant player in the global anti-infectives market by identifying unmet needs in the healthcare industry and rapidly developing novel products to address those needs.

“The present focus is on near-to-market opportunities, developing coatings for medical devices, particularly those where long-term exposure leads to a high risk of infection.”

The awards were presented at a prestigious ceremony held at the Mere Golf and Country Club in Cheshire last Thursday.

“Being awarded Bionow Project of the Year in 2004 has helped transform a good biotechnology project into a new start-up company,” said Dr Dobson.

“This year’s honour will boost our efforts to turn a good start-up company into a solid business set to become a major player in this sector.”

Ai2’s Bionow award was one of three presented to University scientists: Biotechnology Project of the Year went to Dr Paul Bishop, while Biotechnology Company of the Year went to EpiStem, based in the University’s Manchester Incubator Building.

Dr Bishop said he was delighted to receive the award and acknowledged the contributions made by his laboratory, colleagues in the University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and UMIP.

“This award will hopefully provide a springboard for further funding towards the commercial and therapeutic development of this work,” he added.

Dr Linda Magee, head of Bionow and presenter of the awards, said: “England’s northwest is one of the top three bioscience clusters in the UK and this success is testament to the companies and organisations that make up the biotechnology cluster.

“[The industry] employs more than 20,000 people in the northwest; it is only right, therefore, that we celebrate the achievements within this vital sector.”

Aeron Haworth | alfa
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