With Growth Hub support, a small research company in the heart of the Sheffield City Region is doing leading research into new antibiotics.

The world desperately needs a new weapon to fight deadly bacteria which have developed a resistance to the drugs in use today – and a small research company is on track to develop a new generation of antibiotics with the backing of the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub.

Today the research work by AFChemPharm was hailed as a showcase for the region’s strengths in healthcare technologies and innovation by former Master Cutler and member of the Board of the Local Enterprise Partnership Neil MacDonald.

Mr MacDonald, who worked in the international engineering sector for 25 years, said: “Innovation is at the heart of businesses across the City Region, and I am delighted that we have been able to help AF ChemPharm so significantly. This leading research can make a major change in medicine around the world, and I am immensely proud that the Growth Hub has advised and guided this work.

“Our business advisors work with all sizes of businesses and in many different ways.

“We always want to make the most of every opportunity to help grow our economy.”

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health: pneumonia, tuberculosis, and salmonellosis are among the problems becoming harder to treat as current antibiotics become less effective. Longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and eventually increased death rates are all potential consequences.

AF ChemPharm, based in the heart of Sheffield, specialises in ‘chemistry synthesis’ – the construction of complex chemical compounds. Since 1998 it has provided  expertise to pharma and biochemical companies, the chemical industry including the semiconductor sector, and leading universities. Business clients include FTSE-100 pharmaceutical companies.

Now the five-man group of PhD chemists at AF ChemPharm, with academic and industry backgrounds in synthetic organic chemistry, plus a wider network of scientific advisers, have designed several unique molecules as ‘drug candidates’ in order to develop a new generation of antibiotics.

After working on the problem for six years, the scientists have produced a molecule which has been tested at Sheffield University with encouraging results. They are now fine tuning the molecule to improve its antibiotic potency, and working on the synthesis of the other molecules.

An investment of £25,000 from the Sheffield City Region’s Business Investment Fund helped the business to buy a highly specialised piece of equipment for preliminary analysis at its laboratory in Bailey Street. This has allowed AF ChemPharm to significantly speed up analysis in-house.

Director Ruhksana Quyoum said: “It’s well-known that the process of developing a new drug takes years and a huge cost. Producing designed molecules and testing with positive results, we are at early stages of our ‘drug candidate’ development.

“Our new molecules are specifically constructed using unique and novel chemistry, different from conventional approaches, which we believe will combat the bacterium resistance.

“Our research depends very much on collaboration and we are now looking to make new partnerships with commercial companies who want to invest in order to take this project forward.

“Having the funding from the City Region has been a fantastic help because it meant we could go ahead with buying a vital piece of extremely sophisticated equipment very much more readily than we could have done otherwise. Our research takes a lot of time and patience, and the new equipment made it possible to speed things up a great deal.

“Steve Carroll, the Access to Finance Advisor who worked with us on the grant, was very helpful and smoothed the path tremendously!”

Asad Fallah, the founder and Managing Director of AF ChemPharm, added: “We’ve found partnership across the Sheffield City Region, especially with the University of Sheffield, invaluable. We’ve been able to work with some of the leading minds in the UK.”

Access to Finance Advisor Steve Carroll said: “This was an inspiring business to work with. I looked at what the business wanted to do, importing a specialist piece of equipment which they had spotted at a very good price, and advised on financing options.  This enabled the company to successfully source the majority of funding, including asset finance, towards the required £90,000 project cost.

“We then worked together to apply for a Business Investment Fund grant to cover the remaining funding gap.  This application was approved allowing the project to go ahead and the company to press ahead with its growth plans.

“All in all it was good to help such a forward-looking business.”