A University of Glasgow spinout company has received a substantial multi-million Euro award from the European Union (EU) Malaria Fund, to extend their world-leading malaria research into a drug that will hopefully, one day, cure malaria and prevent the disease from spreading.
The newly-established Keltic Pharma Therapeutics Ltd – co-founded by Professor Andrew Tobin, Professor Graeme Milligan and Dr Andrew Jamieson – will build on the recent discovery of a protein called PfCLK3, which is present in the malaria parasite and is essential for it to survive.
Research, led by a team of scientists at the University of Glasgow and published in 2019 in the journal Science, found that inhibiting – or stopping – the activity of the PfCLK3 protein kills the malaria parasite, which prevents it from spreading and also holds the possibility of treating the disease too. Based on this discovery, Keltic Pharma plans to develop a PfCLK3 inhibitor into a drug which could be used for the treatment of malaria.
Malaria is a devastating disease for families and communities, killing around 400,000 people each year, with an estimated two thirds of all malaria deaths among children under the age of five. In particular, the disease imposes a huge healthcare burden on Africa, where access to medical care can be difficult. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed the need to continue the efforts against malaria, despite the recent focus on COVID-19.
The EU Malaria Fund is a public-private partnership between the European Union, International Organizations, corporations, and organized civic society, providing a novel funding instrument to address market failures in infectious diseases with significant relevance to public health globally.
Keltic Pharma hopes to build on the founders’ international expertise in a group of proteins called ‘G protein coupled receptors’ (GPCR) to develop other drugs as medicines for a number of human conditions. The EU funding will launch the drug discovery programmes in both malaria and against other potential GPCR targets.
Andrew Tobin, co-founder of Keltic Pharma and Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow, said: “To receive this funding from the European Union is fantastic for Keltic Pharma and the University of Glasgow, as it will allow us to develop a drug for the treatment of malaria – an outcome from my malaria research that was only a dream ten years ago.”
Professor Graeme Milligan, co-founder and Gardiner Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow, said: “This EU funding will allow us to progress our very exciting basic research programmes studying GPCRs into drug discovery for the treatment of a number of human diseases.”
Dr Andrew Jamieson, co-founder and Reader in Chemical Biology at the University of Glasgow School of Chemistry said: “As an academic chemist, it is a real joy to be able to be a founder of a company that can take advantage of our academic discoveries and turn them into new medicines.”
Bonnie Dean, University of Glasgow Vice Principal, Corporate Engagement and Innovation, said: “The University of Glasgow is very proud of what the co-founders and executive team have achieved in terms of attracting EU funding to take this important research forward into life-changing impact particularly in Africa.”