North-east expertise in drug discovery and the treatment of life-changing inflammatory diseases has been rewarded with a prestigious research fellowship worth £2 million.
The recognition for Obinna Ubah, of Aberdeen University spin-out Elasmogen, is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme funding – worth more than £16.5m – to support Scotland’s most promising scientists.
I can’t wait to get started with the task of developing some of the exciting science innovation that has been funded.”
Obinna Ubah, Elasmogen.
A total of 97 of the UK’s most talented researchers are sharing a £113.5m pot to help bring their innovative ideas from lab to market, and provide “bold solutions” to tackle major global issues ranging from climate change and chronic disease to hate speech.
Mr Ubah, whose achievements to date include an Aberdeen University postgraduate degree in cellular and molecular biology, leads Elasmogen’s auto-immune and anti-inflammation research efforts.
His new fellowship involves a £1.57m grant from UK Government-backed UKRI to take forward his pioneering studies.
He and his research team have isolated a new class of super-neutralising biologics, whose building blocks were originally derived from a blood sample taken from a shark.
It is believed these have the potential to be 10 times more effective than existing therapies for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
They have also shown promise for reducing some of the side-effects experienced by patients on long-term therapy.
Mr Ubah can now go further and faster with his groundbreaking research.
He hopes to make additional improvements so the drugs can neutralise more than one target at a time, minimising the chance that therapies will fail.
There is also potential for research partnerships to develop them into pills that can be taken at home, rather than the current need for repeated hospital visits and injections.
“I am enormously grateful to have successfully secured this UKRI fellowship”, Mr Ubah said.
He added: “It was a long application journey, which started in March of 2020 and was complicated by the global pandemic and lockdowns.
“Now I can’t wait to get started with the task of developing some of the exciting science innovation that has been funded, and attempt to deliver safer and more effective biologics (protein-based) treatments for some of the most debilitating autoimmune, inflammatory diseases.”
The management of chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBD, psoriasis, and RA has significantly improved over the past decade with the clinical availability of biologic drugs.
Mr Ubah said: “Despite this undoubted treatment success, a combination of acquired resistance together with an increased risk of systemic complications means that a significant number of patients either fail to find a suitable therapy or, frustratingly, discover that an approach that did work is no longer effective.”
‘A great outcome’
Elasmogen chief executive Caroline Barelle said the company “could not be more proud” of Mr Ubah’s achievements.
She added: “This fellowship is a fitting reward for all his hard work, the innovative approaches he has taken in his research and the global network of colleagues he has established that are eager to collaborate, mentor and form partnerships.
“This is not only a great outcome for Dr Ubah but also for Elasmogen, Aberdeen and Scotland.
“The success of Dr Ubah’s award reinforces Aberdeen city as a centre of excellence in business-led drug discovery, and biologics in particular.”
Scotland Office Minister Iain Stewart said: “We are proud to support such a diverse and worthwhile range of projects.
“This research will make a real difference to people’s lives, from potentially saving the sight of millions to finding new treatments for disease and creating environmentally-friendly smart tech.
“Scottish scientists have long been pioneers of innovation and this investment will encourage a new generation of trailblazers to keep that tradition going.”