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The University of Southampton

Liver disease breakthrough by new University company

Published: 14 April 2003

A new spin-out company from the University of Southampton aims to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C and save the NHS millions of pounds.

HepCgen has been founded by liver disease specialist Dr William Rosenberg, who has worked and researched in this field for 15 years.

Around 170 million people worldwide have hepatitis C and 30,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2001. Five times more prevalent than HIV, it is transmitted through blood, frequently as a result of shared needles. If fibrosis, or scarring of the liver, is not detected early, the disease can result in organ failure and death through cirrhosis. Effective treatment is now available but this has side-effects and is costly.

Dr Rosenberg said: "It has been called the 'silent epidemic' because people are not aware of the problem and because most infections go undetected. Even patients are reluctant to talk about it although it is a very common condition. New tests and treatments are desperately needed and we are confident our research will make a major contribution to beating hepatitis C."

HepCgen's tests help tailor treatments to suit individual patients. Some patients have a hepatitis C viral infection that can be treated for just six months while others need treatment for a year to gain the same benefit. HepCgen's tests can also help identify patients who are unlikely to respond to treatment early on. Dr Rosenberg believes the NHS could save half a billion pounds a year, if doctors routinely use his new test. "Making the correct diagnosis early on avoids the possibility of the patient being put through months of needless treatment, including unpleasant side effects, and the waste of expensive drugs," he said.

In addition to diagnostic tests HepCgen is aiming to develop new treatments for hepatitis C.

HepCgen has received £350,000 in seedcorn funding primarily from the Southampton Asset Management Fund. Dr Rosenberg's research team has already raised more than £3m in funding over the past four years. He has worked in immunology and liver disease at the University of Southampton since 1997, after extensive study and research in Oxford. He is scientific advisor to the NHS National Screening Committee and the Diagnostics and Imaging Panel and is also scientific advisor to Roche, Schering-Plough and GSK. Under his guidance, Southampton is one of the UK's leading centres for hepatitis C research.

Notes for editors

  1. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.
  2. The Southampton Asset Management Fund is a fund of £5m provided by IP2IPO and dedicated to investing in University of Southampton spin out companies. IP2IPO is a specialist technology transfer investment company owned by Evolution Group plc, the investment bank quoted on the London Stock Exchange. IP2IPO business is the formation of long term partnerships with universities and its first such partnership was with the University of Oxford, under which IP2IPO acquired a 15 year interest in IP commercialised from the University's Chemistry department. In March 2002, IP2IPO entered into partnership with the University of Southampton.
  3. The Centre for Enterprise and Innovation is the focus of entrepreneurial activity within the University of Southampton. Formed in September 2000, the office now employs around 20 people, focusing on the commercialisation of university intellectual property through the creation of start-up companies and opportunities for license. It provides business and funding advice, IP protection and management, commercial legal advice and contract negotiation.
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