• News & Events

    News & Events

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University and the European Screening Centre (now part of BioAscent) have collaborated to find a molecule that could be used to stop heart stents failing.

Each year, thousands of people in the UK have stents permanently inserted into their arteries to open them up, keeping blood flowing and treating the underlying cause of coronary heart disease (CHD).

For around five percent of patients, this process can damage the artery walls and cause inflammation, leading to failure of the stent. This means several thousand patients have to be readmitted to hospital annually.

Dr Stephen Yarwood, a biochemist from Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering, has identified a molecule that tackles this inflammation.

Dr Yarwood’s research is funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Scottish University Life Science Association (SULSA). His research finding is a step towards reducing the number of stents that are rejected by patients’ bodies - as well as the associated costs to the NHS.

Dr Yarwood said: “Our mission is to find new formulations for stents that make inflammation, and failure of the stent, much less likely.

“We knew that an enzyme called EPAC1, which sits in the cells of blood vessels, turns off inflammatory signals, like a molecular switch.

“We tested thousands of chemicals that had potential as good starting points for drug discovery projects but with no currently-known use. We found that a molecule called I942 can regulate EPAC1’s activity.

“Now we know that this molecule can prevent or reduce inflammation, our next task is to make it more effective by modifying its structure. It’s like a key - we know it fits in the lock, now we have to change its shape so that we can unlock the door.”

Dr Yarwood used the facilities at the European Screening Centre, Newhouse (now part of BioAscent Discovery Limited), to test thousands of chemicals to find out whether any of them could target EPAC1.

Dr Stuart McElroy, head of biology at the European Screening Centre and BioAscent said: “This collaboration combined Dr Yarwood’s knowledge of EPAC1’s biology with our experience in drug discovery to develop new tools for drug research.

“First we used our assay development expertise to develop a test that was suitable for testing thousands of potentially useful chemicals, and identifying those with the desired activity towards EPAC1.  Then we used BioAscent’s Compound Cloud chemical library and its unique robotic capabilities to perform a smart screen of a subset of only 5000 chemicals. We then analysed the chemical structures of promising candidates to cherry pick similar molecules from the full library to identify I942. This is a great example of the power of BioAscent’s technology.”      

James Cant, BHF Scotland Director, said: “Since the BHF was established, the number of people dying from coronary heart disease in Scotland has more than halved. However CHD is still Scotland’s single biggest killer. It claims the lives of over 6,700 people every year and there are an estimated 240,000 people in Scotland living with CHD.

“Our pioneering research into stents and new treatments for CHD has achieved a great deal but we want to do more. That’s why we are funding important projects like this by Dr Stephen Yarwood and his team at Heriot-Watt University to help improve techniques and develop new procedures for the future.”

Dr  Yarwood’s findings were reported in BBA, Molecular Cell Research. The findings come as Heriot-Watt celebrates its Year of Health, a calendar of engagement that spans schools, communities, businesses and government. Throughout the year, the campaign will highlight the university’s research and the ground breaking discoveries that are driving innovations in healthcare, diagnosis and treatment.

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About Heriot-Watt University

Heriot-Watt University is a specialist, pioneering university with a reputation for innovative research and highly employable graduates. It has approximately 29,000 students at five campuses based in Scotland, the UAE and Malaysia, and in over 160 other countries through its distance learning programmes. It was named International University of the Year by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and is ranked among the World's Top 500 by all three major rankings – QS World University Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities.

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David Milroy

David is a Partner at Maven Capital Partners where he is a member of Maven’s Investment Committee and is responsible for sourcing and executing private equity investments in Scotland as well as technology and life science investments across the UK. His current investments include Blacktrace Group, Curo Compensation, Optoscribe, QikServe, CB Technology and BioAscent. David started his career as a scientist with GlaxoSmithKline.

After completing his PhD, he moved to international consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie (and then parent Deutsche Bank) where he supported the healthcare banking team, advising clients on their corporate and licensing strategies; and performing due diligence projects on companies, products and technologies.

David joined Aberdeen Asset Management’s private equity division (spun-out to form Maven in 2009) in September 2007 as Fund Manager for an early-stage technology fund. David has a First Class Honours degree in Pharmacy, a PhD (Molecular Biology/Gene Delivery) from the University of Bath and a MBA from The University of Edinburgh.

Director of Chemistry

Dr Angus Morrison

Angus has over 15 years’ experience as a practising medicinal chemist leading both project and medicinal chemistry delivery in multinational and multidisciplinary teams.  In his most recent role as Head of Chemistry at the European Screening Centre Newhouse he was Medicinal Chemistry lead of the European Lead Factory project responsible for over 30 hit to leads programmes.  Prior to this Angus has held leadership roles at Organon, Schering-Plough, MSD, Prosidion and Redx Oncology. During his time in pre-clinical drug discovery he has had broad exposure and experience of working across a diverse range of therapeutic areas and target classes from hit generation to candidate nomination.  Angus has a PhD in Organic Chemistry from Strathclyde University and carried out Postgraduate studies at Cambridge University. He is a co-author on over 30 papers and patents.

Director of Chemistry

Dr Angus Morrison

Angus has over 15 years’ experience as a practising medicinal chemist leading both project and medicinal chemistry delivery in multinational and multidisciplinary teams.  In his most recent role as Head of Chemistry at the European Screening Centre Newhouse he was Medicinal Chemistry lead of the European Lead Factory project responsible for over 30 hit to leads programmes.  Prior to this Angus has held leadership roles at Organon, Schering-Plough, MSD, Prosidion and Redx Oncology. During his time in pre-clinical drug discovery he has had broad exposure and experience of working across a diverse range of therapeutic areas and target classes from hit generation to candidate nomination.  Angus has a PhD in Organic Chemistry from Strathclyde University and carried out Postgraduate studies at Cambridge University. He is a co-author on over 30 papers and patents..

CEO BioCity

Dr Glenn Crocker MBE DPhil

Glenn Crocker is an experienced CEO, company founder, non-executive director and investor in the life sciences sector. He has been CEO of BioCity Group since mid-2003, shortly after it was founded. He has a DPhil in Immunology from Oxford University and qualified as a chartered accountant with EY, focussing on working with biotech companies in Palo Alto, California and Cambridge, UK, where he headed up the UK Biotech practice for EY.

BioCity builds, funds and grows life science companies at its four incubator sites in the UK.

Glenn is a non-executive director of a number of companies and consults on business incubation, start-up creation and cluster growth. He has been directly involved in investing in life science companies through BioCity’s own or managed funds since 2006.

In 2014 Glenn received an MBE for services to the biotechnology industry.

Dr Louis J. Nisbet D.Sc. - Vivanova Ltd

Dr Louis Nisbet

Louis began his career in pharmaceuticals R&D with Roche, Glaxo and SmithKline during which period he achieved international recognition in the discovery of NCEs in infectious diseases. He was one of the UK’s first biotechnology entrepreneurs establishing Xenova and Brax both of which achieved successful exits via IPO and trade sale respectively.

He was the first recipient of the Ernst & Young Biotechnology Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Since 2000 he has been active in investing and building businesses in the private and public equity markets across the health sector. Venture capital investments have been with Kurma Partners, Sitka Partners, Noble Group and Alderley Park Ventures.

He has considerable executive and non-executive Board experience with over 20 quoted and private companies. He has a Ph.D. from Imperial College, London and D.Sc. from the U of Strathclyde.

Chief Commercial Officer

Dr Mike Piper

Mike is an experienced life sciences professional with a track record in sales and marketing strategy, general management, licensing and contract negotiation.  Mike was formerly Head of Sales and Marketing at CXR Biosciences, an investigative toxicology CRO. Following CXR’s acquisition by Concept Life Sciences in 2015 he became Vice President Business Development Safety & Toxicology.  Prior to his time at CXR, Mike worked in business development and licensing at the specialty pharmaceutical company Ardana plc, and held various pharmaceutical industry management consultancy roles at ZS Associates, Deloitte and Arthur Andersen Business Consulting.  Mike has a PhD in genomics from the University of Cambridge, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Chief Scientific Officer

Dr Phil Jones

Phil has over 30 years medicinal chemistry and drug discovery experience from Roche, Organon, Schering-Plough, Merck and the University of Dundee including senior roles as Executive Director and Acting Site Head. He was a member of the Research Leadership Council at Schering-Plough. Numerous clinical candidates resulted from groups for which he was responsible. These span a broad range of target families and therapeutic areas. He has led the European Screening Centre team at Biocity Scotland, Newhouse for the past 5 years and this group plays a key role in delivering validated hit series for SMEs and academics through the IMI funded European Lead Factory. Phil’s postgraduate studies were carried out at the University of Manchester and Imperial College. Phil was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2005, he chaired the Medicinal Chemistry interest group of the Royal Society of Chemistry for 8 years, chaired the organising committee of the European Federation of Medicinal Chemistry – International Symposium on Medicinal Chemistry (EFMC-ISMC) in 2016 and sat on the Executive Committee of the EFMC for four years. He is a co-author on over 70 scientific papers and patents.

Chief Scientific Officer

Dr Phil Jones

Phil has over 30 years medicinal chemistry and drug discovery experience from Roche, Organon, Schering-Plough, Merck and the University of Dundee including senior roles as Executive Director and Acting Site Head. He was a member of the Research Leadership Council at Schering-Plough. Numerous clinical candidates resulted from groups for which he was responsible. These span a broad range of target families and therapeutic areas. He has led the European Screening Centre team at Biocity Scotland, Newhouse for the past 5 years and this group plays a key role in delivering validated hit series for SMEs and academics through the IMI funded European Lead Factory. Phil’s postgraduate studies were carried out at the University of Manchester and Imperial College. Phil was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2005, he chaired the Medicinal Chemistry interest group of the Royal Society of Chemistry for 8 years, chaired the organising committee of the European Federation of Medicinal Chemistry – International Symposium on Medicinal Chemistry (EFMC-ISMC) in 2016 and sat on the Executive Committee of the EFMC for four years. He is a co-author on over 70 scientific papers and patents.

Director of Biosciences

Dr Stuart McElroy

With over 12 years working in drug discovery Stuart has extensive experience of developing and trouble-shooting novel screening assays, designing screening cascades, compound screening, hit validation and supporting hit to lead and lead optimisation programs. Throughout the 5 years of the European Lead Factory project he held the position of Head of Biology at the European Screening Centre (ESC), leading a team of bioscientists in prosecuting and triaging the output of over 90 high throughput screens across all major target classes and disease indications. Prior to this Stuart helped establish the Dundee Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) where he spent 7 years as a project and then team leader working across a wide array of novel drug targets and assays. He also had a leading operational role in DDU-Industry partnerships with both large pharma and SMEs.

Director of Biosciences

Dr Stuart McElroy

With over 12 years working in drug discovery Stuart has extensive experience of developing and trouble-shooting novel screening assays, designing screening cascades, compound screening, hit validation and supporting hit to lead and lead optimisation programs. Throughout the 5 years of the European Lead Factory project he held the position of Head of Biology at the European Screening Centre (ESC), leading a team of bioscientists in prosecuting and triaging the output of over 90 high throughput screens across all major target classes and disease indications. Prior to this Stuart helped establish the Dundee Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) where he spent 7 years as a project and then team leader working across a wide array of novel drug targets and assays. He also had a leading operational role in DDU-Industry partnerships with both large pharma and SMEs.

Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder

Dr Sylviane Boucharens

Sylviane has more than 20 years’ experience in scientific research and drug discovery environment. Sylviane has a track record in building and leading outstanding and productive teams into seamless successful enterprises in start-up and medium and large pharma environment. Prior to BioAscent Sylviane was Head of Global Compound repository and in-vitro Screening (Merck Sharp & Dohme, Newhouse Scotland). She was also responsible for managing a portfolio of early Drug Discovery projects in Cardiovascular from Target Identification and validation to Lead Optimisation. Sylviane attained her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France, followed by post-doctoral positions at the INSERM U366 Laboratory, France and University of Manchester, UK under the Wellcome Trust International Fellowship.

Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder

Dr Sylviane Boucharens

Sylviane has more than 20 years’ experience in scientific research and drug discovery environment. Sylviane has a track record in building and leading outstanding and productive teams into seamless successful enterprises in start-up and medium and large pharma environment. Prior to BioAscent Sylviane was Head of Global Compound repository and in-vitro Screening (Merck Sharp & Dohme, Newhouse Scotland). She was also responsible for managing a portfolio of early Drug Discovery projects in Cardiovascular from Target Identification and validation to Lead Optimisation. Sylviane attained her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France, followed by post-doctoral positions at the INSERM U366 Laboratory, France and University of Manchester, UK under the Wellcome Trust International Fellowship.

Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder

Dr Sylviane Boucharens

Sylviane has more than 20 years’ experience in scientific research and drug discovery environment. Sylviane has a track record in building and leading outstanding and productive teams into seamless successful enterprises in start-up and medium and large pharma environment. Prior to BioAscent Sylviane was Head of Global Compound repository and in-vitro Screening (Merck Sharp & Dohme, Newhouse Scotland). She was also responsible for managing a portfolio of early Drug Discovery projects in Cardiovascular from Target Identification and validation to Lead Optimisation. Sylviane attained her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France, followed by post-doctoral positions at the INSERM U366 Laboratory, France and University of Manchester, UK under the Wellcome Trust International Fellowship.

Ian McDonald

Ian is a Chartered Accountant and an experienced Finance Director/Chief Financial Officer with a successful track record gained in SMEs and PLCs in the manufacturing and customer service industries - particularly within life sciences, pharmaceuticals and FMCG.  

Ian has successful record of achievement as a CFO within Private Equity backed businesses with credibility gained from developing positive and effective relationships with stakeholders, and successful participation in exits with a proven track record in securing funding for growth from both public sector finance providers as well as institutional finance providers. 

Ian’s career is varied having worked primarily in the UK but with extensive overseas travel. As well as heading up a number of large finance teams Ian’s experience extends to successfully evaluating  and commercially shaping high value projects including worldwide ERP system implementations as well as mergers and acquisition experience.

Chief Executive Officer

Paul Smith

An experienced Senior Executive with both General Management and Business Development experience in the pharmaceutical/CRO arena. Paul has an understanding of the drug development process from discovery to clinical research gained through more than 29 years in the CRO/pharmaceutical sector. A strategic thinker and management professional with experience gained in both small and large companies and with recent start-up experience including leading  funding discussions with VCs and other corporate finance groups. Paul recently turned around and sold CXR Biosciences to Concept Lifesciences in late 2015. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, 2013.

Chief Executive Officer

Paul Smith

An experienced Senior Executive with both General Management and Business Development experience in the pharmaceutical/CRO arena. Paul has an understanding of the drug development process from discovery to clinical research gained through more than 29 years in the CRO/pharmaceutical sector. A strategic thinker and management professional with experience gained in both small and large companies and with recent start-up experience including leading  funding discussions with VCs and other corporate finance groups. Paul recently turned around and sold CXR Biosciences to Concept Lifesciences in late 2015. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, 2013.