The School of Pharmacy at the University of East Anglia was established in 2003. In a short time, we've made great progress in developing our research portfolio and impacting in a range of ways: from the provision of expertise to industry, patients and clinicians through to the development of new technologies and knowledge to support the search for new, safe and effective drugs.
Our strategy is driving us towards achieving impact at a local, national and international level. Our research is primarily focused on human healthcare and we are proactively creating opportunities for our researchers to work on cross-disciplinary projects to extend the reach of our expertise.
Along with our collaborations with industry, which can be seen through numerous research contracts with companies such as Boots, Evotec, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, we also have strong relationships with healthcare providers. We have research contracts with organisations such as the National Health Service and the National Institute for Health Research in the UK as well as with international bodies, such as the Saudi Arabian Government.
We're also keen to encourage the sharing of our research as widely as possible and see this as a route to make new connections and develop new relationships with a view to creating opportunities to apply our research.
Take a look at some of the ways our research has had an impact.
Serious economic benefit: and the fish are happier too
Experts from our School of Pharmacy were called in to help find a solution to a global problem, which was causing multimillion dollar losses to the fishing industry.
Changes to food for farmed salmon following the mad cow disease crisis led to an increase in the number of fish suffering from cataracts, which in turn caused reduced growth and an increased susceptibility to a range of diseases. A collaborative project, which included Dr Julie Sanderson and her team, working with the Norwegian partners and Scottish company Biomar Ltd, investigated the formation of cataracts using eye models previously developed by Dr Sanderson for investigations of the human eye.
This research led to the identification of a critical period when the amino acid histidine is essential for the development of the salmon eye lens and an understanding of its role. Consequently, increasing the levels of histidine in fish feed led to a huge decrease in the incidence of cataracts.
These research findings have had a massive and economically significant global impact. In sharing the research results rapidly and widely, there have been widespread changes to salmon feeding practices internationally, providing significant economic benefit across the fishing industry.
Helping patients with swallowing difficulties
Dysphagia – the medical term for swallowing difficulties – can affect a large number of people, not least the elderly, people recovering from stroke and others with long term conditions.
In some cases, patients suffering from dysphagia crush tablets or mix them with foods so they are easier to take. However, this can be dangerous or prevent the medicine being effective. Experts from our School of Pharmacy are leading the way into understanding dysphagia and the potential effects of these practices, providing crucial information to patients and doctors.
In 2004 Professor David Wright and his team set up the swallowing difficulties website which currently attracts more than 6000 hits each month from patients and doctors. The site provides practical information about the safety of crushed medicines and the available alternatives to tablet. Research from the team is also posted to GPs on a monthly basis and Professor Wright authored a book for professionals prescribing medicines in 2011.
In addition to this direct impact on patients and health professionals, Professor Wright is developing a gel into which tablets can be inserted to make them easier to swallow. Patents have been granted for the process and this innovation is expected to be on the market within a few years with a significant impact on quality of life for those suffering from dysphagia.
Supporting the fight against antibiotic resistance
Research at UEA, which took place back in 2009, has led to the creation of a method of producing a chemical compound which plays a role in bacterial resistance to some antibiotics.
As part of an international and interdisciplinary research collaboration, Dr Chris Hamilton and his team helped characterise a chemical compound called Bacillithiol, which is produced by many bacteria, such as those often found in cases of food poisoning, urinary tract infections and septicaemia. These bacteria are increasingly showing resistance to antibiotics and it is thought that preventing the production of bacillithiol may offer a target for new antibacterial drugs. This has led to a growing demand from pharmaceutical companies and academics for bacillithiol for research purposes.
Having gained an in-depth understanding of the underlying mechanisms of bacillithiol – including its molecular structure - researchers at UEA developed a method of producing the compound. Through a University Proof of Concept Award, Dr Hamilton and colleagues were able to optimise production and crucially, scale it up. As a result, bacillithiol produced at UEA is now licensed to US based fine chemicals company, JEMA Biosciences, providing a direct economic benefit to the University, whilst providing the academic and pharmaceutical sectors with a valuable tool for their antibacterial research.
Paving the way for new anti-inflammatories
Inflammation is present in a range of debilitating diseases, such as arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and inflammatory bowel disease, affecting billions of people worldwide. The search for more effective anti-inflammatory drugs with fewer side effects is high priority for the pharmaceutical sector.
Professor Mark Searcey and Dr Maria O'Connell have been studying two proteins in the human body which are implicated in inflammation. The first, called Nrf2 is known to prevent inflammation. However, when it binds to the second, it degrades and has less anti-inflammatory effects. Having made this discovery, the researchers developed a peptide to stop the two proteins binding together, providing Nrf2 with the ability to continue doing its work.
The research was published in 2012 leading to immediate interest from the pharmaceutical sector. Called TAT 14, the new peptide has been commercialised and is being sold by Tocris Bioscience and EMD Millipore Chemicals and is being used in research work by academic and industrial laboratories. Ultimately, this work may lead to new anti-inflammatories, improving quality of life for millions of people suffering from diseases where inflammation is present.