Cancer is believed to cost the UK approximately £9.4 billion per year, but new drugs that are developed by enzymes from reef-dwelling marine organisms could spearhead a fresh fight against the disease.

The new therapeutic drugs, called macrocycles, are being developed by a company spun-out of research conducted by the universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews and can potentially tackle a number of poorly treated conditions.

The value of macrocycles

Macrocycles are valuable as they can act against targets in a similar way to biologics, which are proteins that have been genetically engineered from human genes.  They promise both oral administration and a lower cost to manufacture.

Professor Marcel Jaspars from the University of Aberdeen and Professor Jim Naismith from the University of St Andrews have joined with experienced company builder Dr Bill Primrose to form Ripptide Pharma Ltd.

Professor Jaspars said: “Current methodology for creating macrocycles is based on either purely chemical synthetic procedures, which are inefficient, or those based within living cells, where the range and diversity of the macrocycles that can be generated is limited.

“The new technology is based on a set of enzymes, isolated from marine organisms – blue green algae living inside sea squirts – which can create and modify macrocycles.  Using a knowledge of the structures and mechanisms of these enzymes, we have engineered them for higher activity so that they can be used in a chemoenzymatic manufacturing process.  We are now able to produce complex molecules in two weeks, compared to six months previously.

“These will be particularly effective in treating conditions where the therapy relies on the disruption of protein-protein interactions.  This type of drug target is often difficult to pursue with conventional ‘small molecule’ drugs.”

After six years of research and collaboration between the two groups, it is now ready for commercial exploitation, with funding having been provided by the Scottish Enterprise High Growth Spin-Out Programme.  They are providing support to the venture through company formation drug testing and the securing of investment.

Bill Primrose, Director of Ripptide said: “I have known Marcel and Jim’s work for a number of years and am delighted to be given the opportunity to spearhead its commercialisation.  Its potential is shown by the considerable interest we have already received from potential Pharma partners.”