A pre-spinout speciality pharmaceutical company formed at the University of Strathclyde has scored a double success after winning a national award and securing a grant of £200,000 from Scottish Enterprise (SE).

Edinburgh-based Fitabeo Therapeutics has been named as the winner of the Converge Challenge, part of the Scotland-wide academic company creation programme Converge.

The clinical stage company develops medicines for patients with advanced incurable diseases or debilitating chronic conditions, to enhance their quality of life, using technology developed in Professor Alex Mullen’s research group.

Fitabeo’s co-founder and CEO, Mallikarjun Chityala, has received a prize of £50,000 cash and £24,200 in-kind support.

The award coincides with Fitabeo receiving the grant from SE’s High Growth Spinout Programme, which will be used to progress with the development of technology for palliative care.

Innovative science

Fitabeo was named winner of the Converge Challenge in recognition of its breakthrough patented technology, which enables precision drug delivery via oral thin films for both rapid and controlled release. More than 11 million people worldwide in palliative care suffer from moderate to severe pain, often challenged by difficulty swallowing. 

Mallikarjun said: “As a finalist, I was obviously hopeful of winning Converge Challenge but for it to actually happen is incredible – particularly as the competition was so strong. However, this win isn’t just about me but the culmination of a true team effort built on hard work, innovative science, industry know-how and strong industry relationships.

“We think we have a phenomenal opportunity to help people across the world living with chronic conditions and we’re so glad the judges agreed.  Just knowing that gives us great confidence for the future.” 

Kate Forbes, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, was a speaker at the online awards ceremony. She said: “The ideas and spin off businesses emerging from Scottish universities are world class and we want to encourage and support more innovative, entrepreneurial and sustainable economic growth in this area.”

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director of Converge, said: “The sheer ingenuity and creativity of this year’s Converge winners and finalists show just how innovative we can be as a nation which gives me great hope for our post-pandemic recovery”.

Fitabeo will use its SE grant for patented oral thin film drug delivery technology and for the initiation of pre-clinical studies.

Significant boost

Dr Catherine Breslin, Head of IP and Commercialisation at Strathclyde, said: “This grant will give a significant boost to the development work currently ongoing in the university labs and will set Fitabeo Therapeutics up for bringing products to address an unmet need in the market.

“Fitabeo Therapeutics is another example of great academic research conducted at Strathclyde and supported by the entrepreneurial ecosystem within the University.”

Victoria Carmichael, Director of Strategic Investments, Scottish Enterprise, said: “Scotland’s innovative spinouts and start-ups have the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s economic growth and, in the case of Fitabeo, the health and wellbeing of people the world over.

“We’re delighted to welcome Fitabeo to the High Growth Spinout Programme where we’ll support the project to spinout, grow and scale.”

Mallikarjun said: “We thank Scottish Enterprise and University of Strathclyde for their incredible support in taking this technology into clinical trials.

“Our aims are to bring new products on to the market, to bridge the gap in addressing concerns around dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), in adults and children. We also aim to increase medication adherence and patient compliance, and to enhance quality of life for patients and their families.”

The spinout opportunity was supported by Strathclyde IP and Commercialisation Manager Debbie Stack.

Strathclyde also had three runners-up in Converge: in the Converge Challenge, Dr Stuart Hannah, Research Associate, Department of Biomedical Engineering, for antibiotic resistance testing project Microplate; in the Impact Challenge, Ruth Crozier, Business School graduate, for healthcare solutions company Silver Lion Innovations, and in the KickStart Challenge, Joe Gibson, graduate, Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, for aerospace company Gibson Robotics.

The companies have received support from Strathclyde Inspire, the University’s flagship entrepreneurship programme, which offers entrepreneurial training and opportunities to every student, staff member and alumnus.

Converge is funded by the Scottish Funding Council, all 18 Scottish universities, Creative Scotland and a roster of partners and sponsors.