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Norwich spin-out aims to reduce drug development process by six months

28 January 2023

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A spin-out company based at Norwich Research Park is aiming to use its chemistry-based technology to help pharmaceutical and biotech companies develop new, more effective drugs in quicker time frames.

Drug discovery and development is usually a lengthy process, typically taking 10-15 years to produce an approved final product. And pre-clinical testing, a necessary part of the process, can be expensive, typically costing £1.2bn-1.64bn to get the drug from the laboratory bench to market.

But Norwich Research Park-based company IsoChemiX is developing a product that could reduce the process by six months and reduce the cost by up to £87m.

For the testing of new drugs, specific hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon atoms are swapped for stable isotope versions. This allows the impact and effectiveness of the new drug to be determined and enables scientists to see how a development drug can be adjusted to improve it.

Globally, pharmaceutical companies need a supply of thousands of isotope-based molecules, but there’s often limited commercial availability and they are therefore expensive. Up until now, the majority of isotopes used in drug testing have been radioactive ones sourced from Russia. The ongoing political uncertainty surrounding Russia has highlighted the risks of this supply chain.

Dr Sean Bew, associate professor at the University of East Anglia’s School of Chemistry, had the idea to look at alternatives to these radioactive molecules and found that organic versions known as stable isotope labelled compounds (SILCs) were not being specifically produced for use in drug development. In 2017, he formed IsoChemiX and secured seed funding from UEA’s Proof of Concept fund and a Translation Award to evaluate his business proposition.

Sean and his team are now looking to raise funds to invest in scaling up the manufacturing process for these high-value molecules. In the region of £600,000-700,000 is required to invest in business development and to establish its laboratory-based capabilities. The expectation is that once this capital is deployed, the business will be self-funding.

IsoChemiX anticipates that its customers will be companies in the biotech, medtech, pharmaceutical, agri-chemicals and disease diagnostics industries. The global SILCs market is expected to grow at a significant rate during 2024-2028, with estimates for the market for SILCs currently at £368m and that a total of £87m could be saved by getting a drug to market six months earlier.

Sean said: “The potential our chemistry offers the pharmaceutical industry around the world is very exciting. Not only will we be able to produce a greater supply of the highly sought-after SILC molecules, but it will mean that we will be lowering the costs. That should mean the drug development process is shortened and drugs become less expensive to produce, which ultimately will be great news for the people who need them.

“Being based at Norwich Research Park is ideal for us, as not only do we have the chemistry expertise on site, we have a great support infrastructure that helps us with things like seed funding and contacts that are critical in the development of a start-up business.”

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the organisation that runs Norwich Research Park, said: “IsoChemiX is a great example of how research, taking place at Norwich Research Park, is being translated and commercialised in order to create jobs, address industry challenges that are barriers to economic growth, and improve health outcomes. We are very keen to support new companies that have the potential to grow, employ more people and become part of the greater Norwich Research Park cluster of high-growth businesses.”

Main Image: The molecules created by IsoChemiX could be used by companies in the biotech, medtech, pharmaceutical, agri-chemicals and disease diagnostics industries (Credit: IsoChemiX)

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