A new company has been set up in the UK to apply high-throughput technologies to the development of new chemical materials, including catalysts and novel drugs, for use in the pharmachem industries.
Ilika has been spun-out from the University of Southampton and is founded on the back of combinatorial research techniques developed by Professors Mark Bradley, Brian Hayden and Mike Hursthouse and Dr Samuel Guerin in the University's school of chemistry. But at the heart of the company is the integration of a number of different disciplines - chemistry, robotics, software, analytical techniques and statistics - into a unified platform.
Combinatorial chemistry techniques are already widely used to screen large molecular libraries for the discovery of new drug candidates in the drug industry. Latterly, the techniques have since been developed for the discovery and development of a broad range of new materials.
Ilika will be headed up by Graeme Purdy, formerly chief operating officer at Netherlands company Avantium Technologies, best known for its high-throughput experimentation approach to the development of catalysts.
Purdy told In-PharmaTechnologist.com that Ilika is based on three separate platforms, all of which potentially have applications in the pharmachem sector.
The first is a polymer discovery platform which can be applied to existing small-molecule drugs to alter their delivery characteristics in the body and half-life - in a process akin to the currently used PEGylation technology - and potentially be used to target them to specific areas, such as tumours.
PEGylation, or the joining of biological molecules to polyethylene glycol, is used to reduce the number and frequency of injections for protein therapeutics. PEGylated proteins represent a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The high-throughput technology combines the small molecule with a range of polymers, which can then be screened for activity against a drug target. In addition, some of the polymers themselves may have therapeutic properties, for example by interfering with blood vessel formation
The second technology platform is the creation of novel inorganic materials, for use in piezoelectric devices and catalysts, while the third is a capability in high-throughput X-ray diffraction. The latter technology has applications in the drug industry in areas such as salt selection and the selection of optimal crystalline forms of drugs in the early stages of product development.
The company has secured initial finance from the SULIS University seed-corn fund and specialist financier IP2IPO. Purdy would not disclose the amount it has raised in its initial round, but said that it should have enough cash to operate for a couple of years, based on current projected growth rates.
At present, Ilika consists of Purdy himself, the four academic founders and some post-doctoral level researchers, and is located in the University of Southampton's incubator facility.
Purdy said that Ilika's technology will be "invaluable for many major multinational companies that specialise in bringing new products to market in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries."
He said the company - set up last Friday - was already in negotiations with a number of companies interested in its high-throughput capabilities. Many of these were already talking to the scientific founders prior to the formation of Ilika, he noted.
Prof Bradley, whose work underpins the polymeric materials platform, has previously been working with GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and AstraZeneca, according to the University's website .