The £40 million Bio Hub project will double the number of life sciences companies in the region and is due to be up and running in 2021. Dr Deborah O’Neil founded NovaBiotics as a spin out from the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute. She’s excited about what it means for the future of drug discovery in the region: “The establishment of the Bio Hub will enable companies here to grow and have major impacts on human health. It will put Aberdeen’s growing expertise in treating serious health concerns like Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease, cancer and gut health at the heart of one of Europe’s largest integrated health campuses.
“The Foresterhill Health Campus is the jewel in the north east’s life sciences crown. It brings clinicians, academic researchers, patients and primary health practitioners all together on one site, which creates fantastic opportunities for synergies. It is one of the first of its kind and has led the way for other integrated health campuses established in the UK to follow. We expect the establishment of the Bio Hub will continue this pioneering tradition.”
NovaBiotics will be joined by others from the region’s life sciences cluster. Many are working with live bacteria, fungus and proteins to develop new drugs – a clinical approach described as ‘biotherapeutic’. This refers to any type of treatment that is produced by, or involves, living cells instead of drugs made from chemicals synthesised in a lab.
O’Neil is a leading pioneer in the north east life sciences community. An immunologist by training, she moved to Aberdeen in 2001 to take up a research position at the Rowett after stints as a postdoctoral researcher in the US and Belgium. She was encouraged to make the leap into industry and launched NovaBiotics in 2004 to commercialise a novel treatment for nail fungus.
Since then, having raised £20 million from investors, NovaBiotics has developed and tested drugs for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, a life-limiting genetic condition that affects 70,000 people worldwide. The firm has also developed a portfolio of antimicrobial drug candidates, including Novarifyn, which targets so-called superbugs and is in clinical trial in 2019.
“I love what I do. We’ve made fantastic progress and come a long way in 14 years. These drugs – if successful in completing their development – will save lives, which is ultimately why we do what we do at NovaBiotics.”
The Bio Hub has secured £20 million of capital funding from the UK and Scottish governments through the Aberdeen City Region Deal, a partnership between Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils and private sector led economic development body Opportunity North East (ONE). ONE has led the development of the project with partners and has committed £3.6 million of its own funding to help make Aberdeen one of the most dynamic environments for life sciences companies.