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Oban Man Is Recognised As A Top UK Entrepreneur

15th October 2008

THE founder of an Oban-based marine biotechnology company - whose groundbreaking work could lead to a cure for MRSA - has been officially recognised as one of the top entrepreneurs in Britain.

Dr Andrew Mearns Spragg, chief executive officer of Aquapharm Biodiscovery Limited, was one of the five regional finalist candidates, in the science and technology sector, to win a place in the national finals of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The 36-year-old businessman, who recently won the title of Ernst & Young Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year in health care, fought off tough competition to reach the UK finals, which were held in London on October 6.

The milestone recognised his entrepreneurial ambition in setting up Aquapharm, as well as his pioneering and innovative work in developing new antibiotic compounds derived from the marine microbial environment.

Aquapharm, which to date has raised more than 6million in private equity and grant financing, started trading in Edinburgh in 2000, before moving to the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology, at Dunstaffnage, Oban, in 2004.

Dr Mearns Spragg, whose venture has been backed by several parties, including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: "The laboratories were there, ready to walk in to and the company grew, from three members of staff, on day one, to 17 four years later."

One of Aquapharm's main areas of work is the discovery of new antibiotics that target drug resistant infections, such as MRSA. Dr Mearns Spragg said: "We are developing anti-infectives such as new antibiotics and new antifungals and we have a very strong pipeline of potential new opportunities.

"We have a number of new molecules, which we are developing against MRSA, which are in the early stages of evaluation. It takes about seven to eight years to get to market."

Explaining the size of the health care market, he said: "The global anti-infective market is worth 27-28 billion US dollars, and is part of a global pharmaceutical market, worth 600 billion US dollars.

He added: "We are the only ones in the United Kingdom looking at marine natural products (for anti-infectives). What Aquapharm is good at doing is getting all these difficult to grow resources cultured in a laboratory and doing something useful with it. That is our expertise and that has resulted in our success."

As well as its work in the health care field Aquapharm is trying to identify marine based products which can be used in food, industrial and cosmetic applications.

About half of the company's work is currently spent on research work for the cosmetic industry. Dr Mearns Spragg said: "The natural and organic sector is worth eight billion US dollars and is growing at 20 per cent a year and the global cosmetic market is 200 billion US dollars a year.

One of Aquapharm's recent discoveries is a molecule which it hopes can be used in the development of new anti-ageing skin care products. Dr Mearns Spragg added: "Aquapharm is developing compounds with anti-ageing qualities, which are being currently evaluated by multi-national companies. Compared to pharmaceuticals, the time to market for these natural cosmetic ingredients is comparatively quicker and could help generate significant early revenues into the business through licensing and royalty deals."


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