Health & Wellbeing

A gut feeling about success

Published Jul 7, 2019

An exciting development for research into gastrointestinal bacterial infections has been announced in New York, by US-based biopharmaceutical company, AzurRx BioPharma. The company has licensed MTAN Inhibitor technology developed through a collaboration between Victoria University of Wellington’s Ferrier Research Institute and Professor Vern Schramm at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. 

The technology has the potential to be the next antimicrobial for treating and preventing life-threatening diseases that stem from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections, and is currently being pursued by AzurRx BioPharma. The United States and Japanese patent applications that underpin this research have recently been granted. 

AzurRx BioPharma will use the technology to further investigate the species-specific impact of the inhibitors on H. pylori—a gastrointestinal bacterium that causes 90 percent of duodenal ulcers and up to 80 percent of gastric ulcers in the world’s population. Someone infected with the bacteria has a two- to six-fold increased risk of developing gastric cancer or lymphoma. 

“These MTAN inhibitors can target H. pylori without upsetting the patient’s normal microbiome,” explains Professor Richard Furneaux, Director of Ferrier Research Institute. “This makes them perfect candidates for treating infections caused by this gastric bacteria and preventing the peptic ulcers that can result from infection.” 

Dr Janice Cheng, Senior Commercialisation Manager for Viclink’s biochemistry portfolio, says that in America alone, approximately 25 million people will suffer from a peptic ulcer at some point in their lifetime, and that one million will require hospitalisation for ulcer-related conditions each year. 

“It’s so exciting to see the efforts of our joint research being taken to the next level by the pharmaceutical industry; it’s another step closer to seeing it being applied and making a difference to people’s lives.” 

She says the researchers in the collaboration are continually searching for new therapeutics to treat diseases such as cancer, gout, malaria and microbial infections, and have already designed and synthesised potent enzyme inhibitors for a number of target enzymes. “These MTAN inhibitors are the latest technology to be licensed but almost certainly won’t be the last.” 

“Our successful long-term collaboration with Albert Einstein College of Medicine will allow us to continue to generate ground-breaking research that has real potential to treat and prevent diseases that affect humankind.” 

Viclink, Victoria University of Wellington’s commercialisation office, has worked closely with researchers at both institutions during the process of commercialising the discovery, and works collaboratively with Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Office of Biotechnology and Business Development to manage and commercialise the intellectual property generated from this successful partnership.

For more information, contact Dr Janice Cheng on or +64 4 463 4769.