Date of release: Monday, March 17, 2014

Professor Pat HarveyDrug discovery company IOTA Pharmaceuticals has chosen the University of Greenwich as its academic partner to research the potential of the microalga Dunaliella as a route to new medicines.

The collaboration has won a £5,000 SPARK Award and the sponsorship of the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group (ABSIG).

IOTA is studying the biochemical pathways that produce Dunaliella’s essential metabolites – small chemicals synthesised by the microalgae that can form the building blocks of more complex, therapeutically useful natural products.

“Over half of all human medicines originate from natural products,” says Dr David Bailey, CEO of IOTA Pharmaceuticals. “We are focusing on the proteins catalysing these chemical transformations, using next-generation DNA sequencing approaches to identify, design and develop new processes for natural product synthesis.”

The D-Factory, a bio-refinery research project led by Greenwich which will grow the algae in dedicated photobioreactors, offers IOTA an ideal platform through which to study the plant’s properties.

At the moment Dunaliella is only used commercially for its high beta-carotene content. Professor Harvey at the University of Greenwich explains: “The alga is simply freeze-dried and put in a capsule. So when someone takes it as a vitamin supplement they are also consuming chemicals which could be used for something else. We need to apply biotechnology to explore the production of a broader spectrum of compounds.”

SPARK Awards are £5k grants to encourage new collaborations between the research community and Small & Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). IOTA Pharmaceuticals is a drug discovery SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) based in Cambridge, UK.

The Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group (ABS-IG) is a network set up by the Natural Environment Research Council to scope the environmental science potential of algal bioenergy.

Professor Patricia Harvey is the university’s Head of Bioenergy Research in the Faculty of Science & Engineering. She is a noted authority on bioenergy systems, biomaterial processing and biofuel supply chains. She has extensive experience of the biofuels industry and related technologies, and was recently part of a 13-person strong UK delegation energy mission to Israel to present on issues such as UK policy on renewable energy and alternative resources for energy such as solar and biofuels. 

Story by Public Relations