A PIONEERING biotechnology firm, which is developing a highly potent drug to target a common virus, will create new jobs after expanding into the North East.
London-based ReViral has almost reached the clinical trials stage of its drug, which will combat Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) – a virus which infects the lungs and can cause bronchiolitis and pneumonia and is particularly dangerous in those with compromised immune systems, particularly when found in young children and the elderly.
Durham University lecturer Dr Stuart Cockerill and his former colleagues at Arrow Therapeutics combined their expertise in the areas of virology and antiviral therapies and set up ReViral in 2011.
The company was boosted when it won a prestigious £3.4m Seeding Drug Discovery Award from the Wellcome Trust to fund its first RSV antiviral programme to the stage of filing for their first clinical trial.
Now ReViral has opened a research facility at the North East Technology Park, (NETPark) in Sedgefield, County Durham where it will be creating five jobs. It joins scores of other high tech medical companies which are making huge advancements in the healthcare industry.
Dr Cockerill led the team which discovered GlaxoSmithKline’s breast cancer drug Tykerb. ReViral has the potential to develop projects against other viruses including developing drugs to combat Hepatitis B and the dangerous mosquito born virus, Zika.
Said Dr Cockerill, who is also a senior lecturer in medicinal chemistry at Durham University: “It’s been hard work to get to this point but it’s very exciting to be here now. Treatment for RSV represents a very important multi-billion dollar market since up until very recently there’s been no effective treatment for it.
“In the UK we don’t routinely test for RSV. It’s an infection which circulates throughout the world with people being more susceptible in winter. Healthy people can shake it off, but if you’ve a depressed immune system it can leave you vulnerable to other infections which might kick in resulting in pneumonia, which can prove fatal. And you can be infected multiple times.
“The levels of infection are even higher than you might imagine. There are paediatric emergency beds in hospitals across the world which are full of kids with RSV. It’s a multi-billion dollar market to tap into. They have an antibody which is aimed at preventing the infection, but only in premature babies and it costs $8,000 per treatment.
“Once we get to the clinical trial stage later this year it will be about another six to seven years before it is available, but we may benefit from a fast track approval process which will cut that time.”
NETPark, which is run by Business Durham, the economic development company for County Durham, is home to some of the country’s most innovative companies.
Catherine Johns, director of innovation at Business Durham, said: “ReViral is exactly the type of company which will thrive at NETPark – it’s innovative and developing drugs which will have a world-wide impact on the treatment of viral diseases. We’re delighted they’ve chosen to open a research facility at one of the fastest growing science parks in the country.”
Picture shows NETPark manager Janet Todd with Professor Stuart Cockerill.