Och aye! We present our list of the top ten biotechs in Scotland, based on their innovation and progress in the last two years.
As well as picturesque scenery, there is a diverse range of biotechs in Scotland, with fields covering cell therapy, antimicrobials, and whisky-based biofuels. The Scottish biotech ecosystem gets a lot of help from organizations such as the EU, the governmental agency Scottish Enterprise, and Innovate UK.
A lot of the biotechs in Scotland are spun out from the major universities in the region, including Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh, giving them a solid scientific basis.
Given the thriving industry in Scotland, making a top ten list was definitely not easy. Let’s all raise our whisky tumblers to the following ten biotechs, given in no particular order.
NuCana is a biotech working to enhance the effect of chemotherapy on cancer, circumventing drug resistance in tumor cells. It modifies market-approved drugs by combining them with molecules called protides, which stop cancer cells from evading or degrading the drug.
The advantage of this approach is that much more drug can affect the tumor per dose. This could then reduce the need for high doses, which often produce unpleasant side-effects.
One of NuCana’s protides, Acelarin, is in Phase III for pancreatic cancer in combination with a chemotherapy treatment called gemcitabine. The same combination is in Phase II, testing its effect in patients with ovarian cancer.
Enterobiotix is Scotland’s new, energetic player in the microbiome field, which is a hot area in the biotech industry. Founded by a medical student, the company is working to reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of fecal transplants, a procedure where a healthy donor’s gut bacteria are transferred to the gut of a patient with imbalances in their microbiome.
The company is developing fecal transplant treatments for diseases such as Clostridium dificile infection. Raising half a million euros in its seed funding round last year, it is running a collaboration with the UK’s National Health Service to carry out clinical trials.
To improve fecal transplants, the company aims to standardize storage and management steps, with a long-term aim of optimizing bacterial mixes without the need for healthy donors.
Scotland is renowned for its whisky industry, which produces a lot of waste grain. Celtic Renewables is developing a way to convert the waste grain into biofuels. This sustainable source is useful as it solves the problem of commercial biofuels competing with food crops for farmland.
To extract fuels from the waste grains, Celtic Renewables heats the waste products and then ferments them with Clostridium bacteria. This technique has actually been known about for at least a century, but ultimately the petrochemical industry won the fuel market.
Celtic Renewables is one of the companies working to make the fermentation technique viable in the fuel industry once more. The company started building its first biofuel plant earlier this year as a commercial demonstration.
Novabiotics’ tactic is to re-engineer antimicrobial peptides found in nature to take down treatment-resistant bacterial and fungal pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus and Candida.
The company has treatments undergoing clinical trials, such as a brush-on fungicide for toenail infections in Phase II, and a drug that treats bacterial infections in cystic fibrosis, which got positive results in Phase I earlier this year.
MGB Biopharma develops drugs fighting infections such as those caused by the bacteria C. difficile, which causes gastrointestinal infections, and S. aureus, which is responsible for many skin infections.
To kill the bacteria, the company is developing minor groove binders. Although this might sound like the name of a retro jazz band, minor groove binders are actually drugs that target grooves in DNA’s twisted double-helix structure, stopping certain genes from getting expressed. They may also be able to overcome mounting antibacterial resistance to other antibiotics.
The company is currently raising funds for a Phase IIa trial of its lead candidate, an oral treatment for C. difficile infection. Its other candidates are in the preclinical stage.
Rather than being terrifying animals stalking us from the depths of the sea, sharks could actually save our lives with their unique antibody-like immune proteins. Elasmogen uses these shark proteins to treat inflammatory eye and gut diseases such as the autoimmune condition uveitis.
To make these nature-inspired treatments, Elasmogen has a collection of sharks. Unlike the average James Bond villain, however, the company injects target antigens for a disease into the shark and lets the shark manufacture their immune proteins for the target.
The advantage of these shark proteins is that they have different targets to regular antibodies. Furthermore, they are outside of the competitive world of regular antibody patents.
Last year, the company signed an agreement with Amgen to develop ways to deliver these therapeutics inside cells, though they have not made the applications public yet.
Headquarters: Burntisland, close to Edinburgh
The industrial biotech CelluComp has a mission to turn plant waste into a wide variety of applications in manufacturing, such as ink and paper. This could make manufacturing more sustainable.
Its flagship product is Curran, a material made from cellulose nanofibres extracted from root vegetables such as carrots and sugar beets. Believe it or not, the first thing the company made with this root vegetable extract was a fishing rod!
As well as providing you with fishing fun times, Curran can also be used for paint additives, cosmetics, and reinforcing concrete.
TauRx is a biotech that is incorporated in Singapore, but has its primary research facilities in Aberdeen. It focuses on therapeutics for neurodegenerative disease. As the name suggests, it targets a protein called tau, whose aggregation in the brain is a hallmark pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.
The tau protein is an alternative target for potential Alzheimer’s treatments aiming to slow the disease progression. Amyloid-beta protein has long been the main target, and the basis of repeated clinical trial failures in the past.
TauRx is one of the best funded biotechs in Europe, with over €400M raised as of this year. Its lead compound inhibits the aggregation of tau and has had positive results in Alzheimer’s patients in two Phase III trials, undergoing a third this year. It also has shown promise in Phase III for patients with frontotemporal dementia.
CAR-T is a type of cancer immunotherapy where a patient’s immune cells called T cells are modified in the lab to target cancer cells, and then returned to the patient’s blood. While showing great promise in blood cancer, this technology is not yet so good at targeting solid tumors, and can also have very toxic side effects.
Its main treatment is currently undergoing a Phase II trial in patients with malignant melanoma, renal cell cancer, or non-small cell lung cancer. The company has off-the-shelf versions of the treatment, using cells from donors, in preclinical development.
Synpromics is a biotech that designs custom DNA promoters, which are regions of DNA that promote the expression of a particular gene.
One application of these promoters is in gene therapy. Synpromics’ promoters could express a therapeutic gene in cells very specifically, with potentially few side-effects. In industrial biotech, these promoters could drive the expression of useful genes in microorganisms for manufacturing purposes.
The company, along with the Dutch gene therapy company uniQure, found that their combined tech made a super potent gene therapy for liver disease, which is in the preclinical stage. Synpromics also teamed up with University College London last year to develop a gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
Still curious about biotechs in Scotland? Check out our map for some more!
Images from Shutterstock
This article is a 2018 version of the 2016 article written by Denise Neves Gameiro.