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From Alexander Fleming to John Stenlake, Scotland has an illustrious history of drug discovery. Find out why these five firms are at the cutting edge of the pharmaceutical sector in Scotland.

Scientist in a pharmaceutical lab
Pharmaceutical laboratory

Scotland has always been at the forefront of drug discovery and the impact made by its scientists and universities has been felt worldwide. Landmark discoveries include anesthesia, penicillin and atracurium. More recently, Scotland is leading the world in neuroscience research, regenerative medicine and in developing treatments for cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease and oncology. Two of the world’s top 50 universities for life sciences and medicine are in Scotland and it boasts one of the largest collections of science companies in Europe, with a combined turnover exceeding £4 billion.

So, read on for your dose of five firms that contribute to the sector's excellent bill of health in Scotland. Worth £2.7 billion annually.

Mironid leading the way in PDE inhibitors

Mironid, led by Professor Miles Houslay – a key opinion leader in the phosphodiesterase (PDE) field –  eliminates the significant side effects of a class of drugs known as PDE inhibitors. Many of these are already on the market, such as Celgene’s Otezla (apremilast) for psoriasis and AstraZeneca’s Daxas/Daliresp (roflumilast) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These drugs are very successful, yet they can cause gastrointestinal side effects which manifest before the drugs become effective so patients stop the treatment.

With research at an early stage, Mironid is developing solutions for small molecule therapeutics that modulate the activity of PDE4. These will help address the side effect challenges, focusing on autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. The company secured £4.3 million in Series A funding to develop its internal research and preclinical development programmes.

Read more on the Mironid website

Elasmogen for new soloMER products

Elasmogen is developing its next-generation soloMER products for the treatment of inflammatory diseases of the human eye and gut. SoloMERs are similar to antibodies but are smaller and more stable, so they can be delivered to a specific level, making them tolerant of extreme pH levels and temperatures.

Alongside their in-house development, Elasmogen is working in partnerships to develop its novel candidates and expand its pipeline. Elasmogen, and its Canadian partner Feldan Therapeutics, are collaborating with Amgen to develop and deliver novel intracellular biologics.

In Scotland, Elasmogen has accessed support from Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International to support its growth ambitions.  In addition, being part of the Aberdeen cluster “has been a real accelerator” for Elasmogen, according to Professor Andrew Porter (CTO).

Read more on the Elasmogen website

Ubiquigent focusing on ubiquitin cascade

Ubiquigent is a drug discovery services firm, specialising in the ubiquitin cascade. The company is co-located with the world-renowned MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation unit at the University of Dundee. The company sells research tools, services and compounds important in modulating deubiquitinating enzymes, or DUBs, to pharma and biotech customers globally. Ubiquigent is therapeutic area agnostic. Its chairman, Mark Treherne, says: “The breadth and opportunity of the ubiquitin system in drug discovery covers multiple therapeutic areas, especially in oncology and neurodegeneration."

Ubiquigent works with many researchers and academics across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Dr Treherne views Scotland as a powerhouse in academia. He says: “Certainly, in pharmacology, it has always been very strong. Scotland has a strong base in CROs from early-stage drug discovery to clinical trials and contract manufacturing. Many component parts are available in Scotland, so it is an attractive environment in which to do contract R&D."

Read more on the Ubiquigent website

Exscientia for Artificial Intelligence

Exscientia is at the forefront of artificial intelligence-driven drug discovery. It's the first company to automate the design of drugs. Utilising artificial intelligence systems to actively learn best practice from data from previous discovery projects, the company is generating drug candidates in a quarter of the time taken by traditional discovery approaches. Exscientia has established many collaborations with big pharma, including GSK and Sanofi. It has secured €15 million of investment from Evotec, a German drug discovery alliance and partnership company, to advance small molecules and bispecific small molecules in immuno-oncology.

Read more on the Exscientia website

ProStrakan developing novel treatments

ProStrakan is a Scotland-based company collaborating internationally to take their place among the world’s top pharmaceutical companies. The company was acquired by Japanese company, Kyowa Hakko Kirin (KHK), in 2011. Now rebranded at Kyowa Kirin International (KKI), the company is working with Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical to develop novel treatments for inheritable rickets. Working as part of the KHK group has allowed ProStrakan to commercialise its products more efficiently, and increased its product pipeline exponentially.

Read more on the KHK website

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