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Oxford Nutrascience hopes to sell sweeter drugs

MARY Poppins once sang that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Now an Oxfordshire biotech firm has set out to prove her right by developing a new form of a common painkiller that tastes a lot sweeter.

Researchers at Oxford Nutrascience have been working on ways of making ibuprofen more palatable by cutting out the burning sensation it sends to the throat and replacing it with more pleasant flavours.

Now the company, which span out of the chemistry department of Oxford University in 2008, has signed a licensing agreement with Isis Innovation, the university’s technology transfer company, to develop and commercialise the technology.

As a result, the first ibuprofen “chews” and liquid could be on the market as early as next year.

Marcelo Bravo, executive chairman and chief technology officer at Oxford Nutrascience, said: “Ibuprofen has been around a long time but delivers a burning sensation to the throat.

Using this technology we can deliver chewable and liquid forms of the drug using much higher doses suitable for some treatment needs and now we are working out how to take this to an industrial level.”

The potential of the breakthrough is huge. Mr Bravo said the current market for ibuprofen, originally invented by chemists at Boots, was £1.5bn a year.

He added that manufacturers of ibuprofen had been “very enthusiastic” about the development which could lead to different flavours being used in different markets depending on local tastes.

“The response has been outstanding. We are talking to the top five people in the world right now ” it is a question of execution.

“The regulatory experts are still quite complex but we are aiming to have a licence for early products some time in 2012.”

Oxford Nutrascience based at the Begbroke Innovation Centre, Yarnton, has a staff of four but uses a wide range of research partners to develop its technology.

As well as ibuprofen, the company is developing new its taste-masking technology for a range of products, including fish oil and calcium supplements.

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Ben Roeves