At a time when the number of new drugs in the world's development pipeline has dwindled, the University's drug discovery company e-Therapeutics has formed a partnership with Brazilian company Grupo TCI to establish a joint research facility close to the Amazonian and Atlantic rain forests, to start testing substances from the millions of plants in the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.
New drugs are being sought for tropical diseases which occur in Brazil, such as hepatitis C, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis. There is also a possibility that medicines can be identified to combat many other diseases, such as drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and even virus infections like avian flu.
In a separate deal, e-Therapeutics is joining forces with CURA, a pharmaceutical consortium backed by the Brazilian Government, which is establishing a cluster of drug discovery, development and marketing industries in North East Brazil. This will give e-Therapeutics a base from which to access to Brazilian pharmaceutical companies.
e-Therapeutics was spun out of Newcastle University in 2003 by Professor Malcolm Young, who developed new 'systems biology' techniques which can accurately predict the biological effect of any substance on any human tissue and on pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. He attracted more than £10m research funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and other organisations to turn his ideas into practice.
Professor Young demonstrated the effectiveness of its technology by correctly predicting the effects of known drugs, such as 103 known antibiotics. But it also uncovered unknown antibiotics, which are now entering drug development.
Professor Young, who is now Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Development), said: 'This is a fantastic opportunity to investigate Brazil's colossal biodiversity with our cutting edge technology. There is enormous potential for drug discovery in the rain forests, where there are millions of plant species, many of which produce bioactive chemicals.'
NUTRITION AND HEALTH
agroforestry, health, new products
Bioprospecting: Medicines from the rain forests