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Innovate Pharmaceuticals joins the fight against COVID-19 with help of Innovation Vouchers and MATMED

Eccles-based Innovate Pharmaceuticals on how the Hub has helped the pharmaceutical start-up begin trials of a novel treatment for symptoms of COVID-19 and cancer.

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Innovate Pharmaceuticals is a research-based development stage pharmaceutical company that discovers and develops innovative medicines.

After developing an innovative novel liquid formation of aspirin, Innovate Pharmaceuticals approached GC Business Growth Hub and received support through the Innovation Voucher Scheme and MATMED – North West Europe's only dedicated transnational network for the fields of advanced materials, medical devices and regenerative medicine.

Director Simon Cohen tells us about enhanced liquid aspirin and how support from the Hub has helped Innovate Pharmaceuticals reach the stage where trials will test its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of both cancer and COVID-19.

The way we develop – and price – drugs needs to change

I’ve worked at large pharmaceutical companies for many years and one of the issues is that to get new drugs to market is very expensive, costing up to £2 billion per drug.

We felt that there had to be a better, less expensive way that made sure the drugs are affordable for all, and not just the richest of us. So, our aim in setting up Innovate Pharmaceuticals was to find a new and better way to develop drugs.

We looked at repurposing older drugs, developing them using third parties as our research point, and making unique collaborations with universities and researchers to develop them.

We started with aspirin, which is notoriously difficult to make into a liquid because it doesn’t like to solubilise. When you do find a chemical platform that turns it into a liquid, it normally breaks down almost immediately into a vinegar, because of hydrolysis.

So, it was a very big project to make it into a pure liquid that doesn’t break down for at least two years, but we believe it was worth the effort.

Liquid aspirin has the potential to change lives

There are many advantages to enhanced liquid aspirin, not least because you can dose accurately with it. If you want to give someone a very specific dose of aspirin, that’s not easy with tablets because they only come in certain sizes. In liquid form, you can have whatever dose you want, dependent on your age, your weight or depending on the disease.

Many people also have difficulty taking aspirin, especially those with any disease that causes issues with swallowing, so a liquid is much easier for them. Another important benefit is that liquid aspirin has a much-reduced effect on the gastrointestinal tract, compared to aspirin in tablet form, which can cause ulcers and bleeds in the stomach.

These are all reasons we believe liquid aspirin has an important role in how we treat people suffering from a range of diseases, now including COVID-19.

Like many businesses we’ve had to change our plans because of COVID

Before the start of this pandemic, we were moving forward with human clinical trials for people with cancer, primarily. Now because of the urgency to find ways to help people who are suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19, we’re focusing on looking at human trials for that.

Liquid aspirin is a more potent anti-inflammatory, so it works better on inflammatory disease, which means that it will be better at reducing the effects of COVID. Unlike normal aspirin, it transverses the blood/brain barrier, so when treating diseases that are neuroinflammatory, liquid aspirin can get through and make a real difference.

We’ve completed all of the preclinical work and have had approval from the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) and the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) to do COVID-19 trials. Over the next few months, we’re aiming to raise enough money to carry out all of the trials we need to do for both COVID and cancer.

We have two or three cancer trials planned and we would also like to expand some of the trials we’re carrying out in other disease areas, to look at how we can move those to human trials as well.

Innovation Vouchers have helped us get to this stage

We had heard about Innovation Vouchers on the internet and got in touch with Innovation Advisor Samuel Bafunso from the Hub. Samuel talked us through it all, carried out a diagnostic, explored further market opportunities and worked with us to define our core value propositions. He has been superb and so helpful.

The Hub awarded us a match-funded £5,000 Innovation Voucher to support the project, and this is allowing us to do more of the formulation research on the platform with a research partner at the Centre for Pharmaceutical Engineering Science (CPES), based at the University of Bradford.

We need to do this to understand better how it works, so we know not just for liquid aspirin but what else we can do in the same way. They have the expertise in the area of pharmaceutical formulation development and in designing a scientific approach that aims to provide experimental data to enable a deeper understanding of the key factors in developing a stable formulation.

Finding the right partners is crucial

What we needed to know before undertaking the human clinical trials was how the liquid aspirin compares to standard aspirin in terms of blood coagulation. When we look at that anti-platelet effect, it’s important that liquid aspirin is as good as standard aspirin, but not significantly better, because the more anti-platelet effect, the more chance you have dangerous bleeds on the brain.

The challenge was to quickly find an organisation that could undertake these specialised and complex tests. That was proving difficult, but we were able to get help from MATMED, which has an international network of experts and organisations in the medtech field.

They connected us with Synapse Research Institute in Maastricht, The Netherlands, a world leader in platelet function research. They undertook that research for us, while MATMED also awarded us a voucher valued at €25,000 to enable the study to go ahead.

This has made a huge difference to us, with the research showing that liquid aspirin is unlikely to cause a higher incidence of brain bleed in comparison to standard aspirin, meaning that we can press ahead with our human clinical trials. Without that connection and support from MATMED, it would have taken us longer to reach this stage.

Innovation Vouchers

Get the funding you need to access expert support to help your business innovate, develop and grow.

Innovation Vouchers enable SMEs in Greater Manchester to apply for up to £5,000 to accelerate the development of innovative products and services.

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