BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Aquapharm BioDiscovery Ltd. raised £4 million (US$8 million) in its first venture capital round, allowing it to advance its lead compound, a novel peptide that is effective against drug-resistant infections including Methicillin-resistant S. aureus into Phase I development over the next three years.

At the same time, the company will develop manufacturing and scale-up processes for commodity ingredients it has discovered in marine micro-organisms.

"Investors are now coming around to realize the marine environment is a significant source of novel compounds," Andrew Mearns Spragg, CEO, told BioWorld International. "But although you can't help finding things in the sea, the difficulty is developing the technology to translate them through to products."

The round was led by Aescap Ventures, of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which put in £1.5 million, with the venture arm of the food and ingredients company Tate and Lyle plc of London. Existing investors, including two publicly funded regional development agencies and the public fund Nesta Investments, of London, followed on.

Since founding Aquapharm in 2000, Mearns Spragg has focused the company on small-molecule natural products from bacteria and fungi that can be cultured by fermentation. Aquapharm has developed a patented fermentation technology based on key stress mechanisms within the micro-organisms which enable it to achieve sustained production of secondary metabolites within the culture system.

On the pharmaceutical side, Aquapharm has uncovered a number of molecules with antibiotic and antifungal properties and has advanced seven of those into formal discovery. It is looking for joint venture partners to further develop these compounds and Mearns Spragg said a number of discussions are taking place currently.

The company's discoveries are relevant to other sectors also, including industrial enzymes, food ingredients and cosmeceuticals. In nutraceuticals there is a portfolio of four carotenoid antioxidants, and Aquapharm has discovered molecules with anti-aging properties, also.

Aquapharm has built a library of 6,500 unique marine bacteria and fungi. From its base in Oban on the west coast of Scotland, it continues to build the library through prospecting habitats ranging from shallow brackish waters to Arctic ocean depths. The collection is available for third-party screening.

Earlier this year Aquapharm was awarded a £489,000 government grant to search for new anticancer compounds in collaboration with two industrial partners.

The collaboration aims to develop at least two novel compounds that link marine-based bioactives with monoclonal antibodies and/or nanoparticles that are able to target cancer cells specifically. In another government-funded program, Aquapharm is searching for novel oxidases for industrial applications.