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St Andrews spin-out sets sights on global pharma markets

St Andrews spin-out sets sights on global pharma markets


X-Genix – a company in the process of spinning out from the University of St Andrews – is in talks with a number of top global pharmaceutical companies following the development of cutting-edge sustainable technology which could revolutionise the way that medicines including antibiotics are made.


The team of Fife-based researchers has discovered a new bio-based process for halogenation, which sees chlorine or bromine added to certain molecules in pharmaceutical and agricultural products. The introduction of a carbon-chlorine or carbon-bromine bond can help make the medicine active as well as improving absorption levels.


X-Genix’s process uses naturally occurring enzymes, combined with household substances such as table salt, to create the carbon-chlorine bond. Traditionally the process would use chlorine gas, produced using energy-intensive methods and typically hard to handle, requiring specialist facilities.


Over the past two years, X-Genix has secured around £1.5 million in funding to support the development of the technology, including a significant £15,000 grant from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) to build the business model and to help the spin-out to become investor-ready. The company has plans to move into a purpose-built space at the new Eden Enterprise Hub in Fife later this year.


Analysis from the company suggests that, of the top 200 pharma products, more than a quarter (26%) contain a chlorine bond in the final substance, with a further 67% using chlorine as part of the manufacturing process – highlighting a significant opportunity to introduce more sustainable methods. X-Genix estimates the overall market for halogenation to be worth more than $250 billion per year.


Compared to current manufacturing methods, the new technology is more selective and direct, therefore, removing the need for an additional purification process. X-Genix’s technology also enables precision-editing of molecules at any stage of the synthetic process including late-stage functionalisation – something which can be critical in the late stages of drug development when a final tweak to the molecule can be ‘make-or-break’ for entry into clinical trials.


Rebecca Goss, founder of X-Genix and professor of biomolecular and organic chemistry at the University of St Andrews, said: “Following a decade of research that has helped us to reach this point with the halogenation technology, we are now at a particularly exciting juncture in bringing our process to the wider market. Using enzymes is something the pharmaceuticals industry is beginning to look at more frequently for mainstream processes and we have developed a method for using bio-based alternatives to typically unstable and potentially toxic chlorine gas, usually produced overseas.


“Utilising an extensive database of gene sequences that allows us to identify the position of halogens in different compounds and molecules, there are huge possibilities for transforming the way companies discover and manufacture entirely new as well as commonly used products and medicines. We are now in talks with a number of potential partners from across the globe to help enhance the sustainability of their processes and explore how our unique use of enzymes can support future drug development.”


Liz Fletcher, director of business engagement at IBioIC, added: “X-Genix’s work is a great example of how organic chemistry and bio-based processes can help to improve the sustainability of everyday manufacturing processes and open production opportunities in the UK. This is the first time IBioIC has awarded funding of this kind to a university spin-out and we were able to offer valuable support to help the company get to this point, both in terms of technical development and business strategy.”

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Last Updated: 18-May-2022