Brock researcher awarded NSERC Idea to Innovation grant for developing simpler route to Tamiflu

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Brock researcher awarded NSERC Idea to Innovation grant for developing simpler route to Tamiflu

Mar. 18, 2009

A Brock University researcher investigating made-in-Niagara solutions to the world threat of bird flu has developed a new, simpler route to Tamiflu, one of the few compounds effective against the illness, otherwise known as H5N1 virus.

Tomas Hudlicky, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair and chemistry professor at Brock, was recently awarded nearly $125,000, an Idea to Innovation grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to further optimize the new method, which has also been patented.

While the so-called bird flu hasn’t made many headlines in Canada, the World Health Organization recently warned that the risk of a global human influenza pandemic remains real and is probably growing as the bird flu virus becomes entrenched in poultry in more countries.

Although Tamiflu is under a patent to pharmaceutical company Roche until 2018, many companies are developing processes of their own, especially since estimates are that Roche will not be able to manufacture enough Tamiflu to meet demand.

Hudlicky’s synthetic Tamiflu will not only help address some of the potential shortages, but the process itself has the potential of cutting down on the steps required for manufacture. Some of the intermediates in the synthesis may also offer the possibility to create new antiviral agents.

The current commercial syntheses, as well as several academic efforts at development, produce Tamiflu in sequences ranging from eight to 21 steps. Hudlicky’s technology reduces the complexity of the industrial process by providing a potential for a six- to eight-step synthesis.

“The Brock synthesis responds to environmentally benign manufacturing by using a commodity chemical as a starting material and introducing the required chirality by a fermentation process performed in aqueous medium,” noted Hudlicky.

Brock’s Technology Transfer office is currently seeking partners to collaborate on further research and development and commercialization partners to help bring this technology to market.

The benefits to Canada could be potentially significant. Since more than 400 million doses of Tamiflu could be required in the event of an outbreak, manufacturing even a small proportion of this amount in Canada would provide a significant opportunity for highly skilled workers.

“Brock University is at the edge of research in many fields and certainly strong in this one,” said Liette Vasseur, Vice-President, Research. “Through his research activities, Dr. Hudlicky has been able to produce new innovative compounds such as this one that will have long-term economic and health benefits for Canada and the world. We certainly encourage such researchers at Brock and greatly appreciate the support of the federal government through NSERC to allow them to advance knowledge, people and entrepreneurial advantage of Canada. “

For information on the NSERC Idea to Innovation grant, go to:  

NSERC is the federal granting agency responsible for promoting and supporting research in the natural sciences and engineering. NSERC invests in people, discovery and innovation to build a strong Canadian economy and to improve the quality of life for all Canadians. The Council promotes excellence in the creation and productive use of new knowledge. As part of its mandate, NSERC supports high-quality research with societal or industrial relevance and the transfer of the results to Canadian-based organizations.