University of Edinburgh licence agreement with life sciences giant supports further understanding of disease

Published: 1-Nov-2016

Partnership provides researchers access to pioneering fluorescent probe technology to enhance our understanding of disease action

Edinburgh Research & Innovation, the commercialisation arm of The University of Edinburgh, has entered a licence agreement with the life science business of Merck, a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials.

The licence agreement provides Merck with access to a pioneering technology to prepare fluorescent peptides as tools to understand how disease progresses in early stages and with improved resolution.

'At Merck, we are always looking for innovative ideas to enhance our customers’ research efforts. This compound from the University of Edinburgh offers researchers a way to fluorescently label peptides that has minimal interference with peptide structure. This will enable biological discovery and complement our portfolio of chemical biology tools,' said Udit Batra, Member of the Merck Executive Board, and CEO Life Science.

A research team from The University of Edinburgh’s School of Clinical Sciences, led by the Principal Investigator Dr Marc Vendrell, worked in collaboration with academic partners at the University of Barcelona (Professor Rodolfo Lavilla) and The University of Manchester (Professor Nick Read) to co-invent the technology, the initial stages of which have been funded by the EU Commission via a Marie Curie Career integration Grant.

This technology, which is the subject of a patent application, will allow the use of natural peptide mimics as disease reporters by applying a fluorescent compound that makes their identification easier under the microscope, as Dr Vendrell explains: 'Peptides are essential natural products, but they are not fluorescent and therefore invisible under the microscope. If we want to know how peptides behave, we need to attach them to fluorescent tags in order to ‘see’ them. Crucially, it is very important that when we attach these tags to make peptides fluorescent, they behave exactly in the same way as they would in their natural state. This is exactly what we have achieved with our technology.'

As an initial Proof of Concept, Dr Vendrell and colleagues used peptides binding to fungal cells to visualise fungal pathogens. Their research proved that the fluorescent peptides behaved exactly in the same way as the natural peptides. This is a major-breakthrough in peptide chemistry and in the biomedical sciences since it paves the way for a better understanding of disease onset and behaviour.

Dr Vendrell added: 'One of the main advantages of our technology is that it can be broadly applied to almost all peptides, having a global impact in biomedicine. This means that our technology will improve our understanding of disease at many different levels, from cancer to the regeneration of tissues or the progression of inflammatory diseases.'

Dr Angus Stewart-Liddon, ERI’s Licensing Executive, said: 'This is an exciting breakthrough as it provides a powerful addition to our ‘toolbox’ to investigate disease action. Working with the life science business of Merck means the technology will be made readily accessible to researchers worldwide, both in industry and in academia. It is another great example of the University working in collaboration with trusted industry partners to make valuable research tools accessible.'

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