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Five Scottish companies at the cutting edge of drug discovery

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 we have one of the largest science company clusters in Europe, with a combined turnover exceeding £4 billion.

Continuing this proud history, here are five companies working in Scotland on the drugs of the future.


Mironid, led by Professor Miles Houslay – a key opinion leader in the phosphodiesterase (PDE) field – is focused on eliminating the significant side effects of a class of drugs known as PDE inhibitors. A number 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. Although these drugs are very successful they can cause gastrointestinal side effects which manifest themselves before the drugs become effective, leading to patients discontinuing the treatment.

With an innovative drug discovery pipeline of early stage, small molecule therapeutics that modulate the activity of PDE4, a specific subset of PDE enzymes, Mironid is developing solutions to address the side effect challenges, with a specific focus on autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. The company recently secured £4.3 million in Series A funding to develop its internal research and preclinical development programmes.

Read more on the Mironid website


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, allowing them to be delivered to an exceptionally specific level and making them tolerant of extreme pH levels and temperatures.

As well as their in-house development Elasmogen is working in strategic partnerships to accelerate development of its novel candidates and expand its pipeline. Elasmogen, and its Canadian partner Feldan Therapeutics, have entered into a major research collaboration with Amgen to develop and deliver novel intracellular biologics.

Elasmogen has accessed support available 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 is a drug discovery services company specializing 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 a wide pool of researchers and academics across Scotland and the rest of the UK and Dr Treherne views Scotland as being a powerhouse in academia; “certainly in pharmacology it has always been very strong, it has a strong base in CROs from early-stage drug discovery all the way through to clinical trials and contract manufacturing. A lot of 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 is at the forefront of artificial intelligence driven drug discovery, being as they are, the first company to automate the design of drugs. Utilising artificial intelligence systems to actively learn best practice from data taken from previous discovery projects, the company is generating drug candidates in a quarter of the time taken by traditional discovery approaches. Exscientia has established a number of collaborations with big pharma, including GSK and Sanofi, and secured €15 million 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 is an example of a Scottish-based company collaborating internationaPharma serviceslly 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 collaborating with Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical on the development of novel treatments for inheritable rickets. Working as part of the KHK group has allowed ProStrakan to commercialise their products more efficiently and increased their product pipeline exponentially.

Read more on the KHK website

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