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Award for disease-fighting ‘seaweed drug’

6 June 2017


A drug developed from seaweed that helps fight off infection has picked up a prize for innovation.

Researchers discovered that alginates – found in seaweed – can combat multi-drug resistant infections.

Working with the Norwegian biopharmaceutical company AlgiPharma, a team led by Professor David Thomas at the School of Dentistry showed how alginates could disrupt the formation of microbial biofilms.

The project has won the Medical Innovation Award at this year’s Cardiff University Innovation and Impact Awards.

Professor Thomas said: “Our research allowed us to derive material from the natural world with powerful abilities to modify bacterial behaviour, making them more susceptible to antibiotic treatment, and to improve the properties of mucus in patients with lung disease..."

The project began with a small grant from AlgiPharma in 2007 for exploratory microbiology studies, but developed into a nine-year collaboration between the University’s Advanced Therapies Group (ATG), AlgiPharma and Cardiff & Vale University Health Board.

The ATG’s collaborative network helped attract researchers with expertise in specialist areas, paving the way for human clinical studies across the EU and Scandinavia.

The project has continued to attract significant research funding, produced a large volume of leading academic papers and received national and international awards.

Phil Rye, R&D Director at AlgiPharma, said: “The collaboration has enabled us to make significant advances in the development of a new drug, which is now in human clinical studies, and has recently been included in the US Cystic Fibrosis Foundation drug development pipeline...”

“The collaboration between AlgiPharma and the Advanced Therapies Group has enabled us to exceed the original goals for this project.”

Dr Phil Rye R&D Director, AlgiPharma

Using the information about how the alginate works, scientists have also developed a new inhalation therapy that is being tested on cystic fibrosis patients to help clear mucus obstructions in their lungs and potentially slow the progression of the disease.

If successful it could also be used in other more common respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is reported to affect over one million people in the UK.

The studies are also paving the way towards improved treatment of chronic non-healing skin wounds and fighting organisms that cause conditions such as gum disease.

Voting is open until 11:00 on Wednesday 21 June.

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The University’s Innovation and Impact Awards 2017 highlight the benefits of partnerships between academics and external organisations.