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The University of Southampton

World-class asthma research company Synairgen to float on London's Alternative Investment Market

Published: 12 October 2004

A spin-out company from the University of Southampton specialising in finding and out-licensing treatments for chronic bronchitis (COPD) and the severest forms of asthma, is about to seek a listing on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

World-renowned scientist Professor Stephen Holgate and his colleagues Dr Ratko Djukanovic and Dr Donna Davies, who founded Synairgen in the summer of 2003, have spent many years researching the underlying mechanisms of respiratory disease and bring that experience to the company. The team's work culminated in the discovery of a human gene critical to the development of asthma.

The company is already working on three collaborations with international drug companies and, with the University of Southampton, has filed two patents. Synairgen is developing a product which addresses the problem of why the common cold brings on asthma attacks. Another product is being developed which should help asthmatic lungs 'repair' themselves.

At a molecular level, detailed analysis is highlighting important new bio-markers present in the blood and lung secretions revealing vital differences between the lungs of healthy people and those with chronic lung disease. The Company's objective is to develop novel respiratory drugs using this approach.

Professor Holgate has published over 700 papers and is one of the most frequently cited authors in the field of bio-molecular science. He said, "We are investigating what it is about the structure of an asthmatic or smoker's lungs which leads to a prolonged response of lung damage and altered repair, then we can work on ways to resolve these problems. Over 50 per cent of people have allergies, but only one fifth of these people develop asthma. Analysing these helps us to identify drug targets."

"Identifying biomarkers is seen as crucial in understanding more about people's responses to common environmental causes of lung disease such as viruses, pollutants and allergens. Like a criminal leaving a fingerprint at the scene of a crime, diseases leave behind signs which we should be able to detect," said Professor Holgate.

Researchers at Synairgen are also collecting tiny samples of lung tissue from volunteers to form a unique biobank, which will help the discovery of novel drug targets. Biopsies and airway brushings will also be used to grow layers of both ordinary and abnormal cells for experimentation purposes.

"Very few laboratories across the world are working on real human models of asthma and COPD. This facility will help pharmaceutical companies speed up their research so a new drug can be tested in months rather than years," added Professor Holgate.

One child in eight receives treatment for asthma in Britain and there are 3.7 million adult sufferers. The disease kills four people a day. COPD, linked to smoking, is the commonest cause for winter admission to hospitals.

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Notes for editors

The CEI is the highly successful centre for enterprise and innovation at the University of Southampton. Focusing on the protection and exploitation of the University's Intellectual Property, it has helped to create over 10 spin out companies since October 2001. The most successful so far of these is Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping plc, (OHM) created in June 2002 and floated on AIM in March 2004 with a valuation of around £50 million. The CEI also encourages enteprise within the university by supporting academic consultancy, propagating student businesses through the entrepreneurs' club, Fish on Toast and aiding business to university interaction through the University2Business model.

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