The sale of a biotech firm, Ziylo, set up by a young scientist could pave the way to a new generation of glucose responsive insulins.
University of Bristol PhD post doc Harry Destecroix, 31, has been developing glucose-binding molecules which could result in insulins which adapt to blood glucose levels.
Alerted to the potential, insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk is set to buy the company, co-founded by Dr Destecroix, in a staged transaction, subject to clinical and regulatory milestones, for up to £623 million.
Novo Nordisk will now work with the firm over the next ten years in a bid to take the “next leap forward”.
The deal gives Novo full rights to the glucose binding molecule developed by the company. If harnessed successfully, the molecules could eliminate the risk of hypoglycemia, leading to safer and more effective insulins.
The company, a University of Bristol spin-out, was launched by Dr Destecroix alongside Professor Anthony Davis, a Professor of Supramolecular Chemistry at the university, and co-founder and CFO Tom Smart.
Professor Davis, who designed Ziylo’s glucose binding molecules, said: “The glucose responsive insulin we will develop with Novo Nordisk combines a natural molecule (insulin) with an artificial component [Ziylo’s glucose binding molecules].
“This combination of natural and unnatural could be a new approach to biodesign. These unique molecules were inspired by nature and work in much the same way as natural glucose receptors.”
Experts at the Davis Research Group based at the university’s school of chemistry had been tackling this challenge and been at the forefront of research into synthetic sugar receptors for the last 20 years before Ziylo was formed in 2014. There are over 30 stakeholders in the company, which includes the co-founders, University of Bristol and angel investors.
The university’s pro vice-chancellor for research, Professor Nishan Canagarajah welcomed the deal. He said: “The university is proud of its cutting-edge research which has potential to generate major societal impact. It is gratifying to see our research being developed to the point where it has the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives.
“The acquisition of Ziylo by Novo Nordisk will allow this technology to take the next leap forward. Well done to the team at Ziylo and to Professor Davis and his team at the university for getting to this exciting point.”

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