For nearly a decade, Michele Barbour and her team of researchers at the University of Bristol have been developing controlled-release salts of a commonly-used chemical called chlorhexidine. Barbour believed her technology had enormous potential – so she decided to start a company.
“When you’re an academic, you have a lot of freedom but you also have only some opportunity to actually interface with businesses and with clinicians and so on,” she told Drug Delivery Business News.
She teamed up with Ashley Cooper, who has been involved in nine academic spin-outs over the course of his career. Together, the pair launched Pertinax Pharma in 2015.
Pertinax comes from a Latin word meaning persistence or tenacity, Barbour said, referring to the sustained efficacy of the chlorhexidine material and to the company itself.
“Why we’ve taken this opportunity to ‘launch’ ourselves now, is that it is only now that we have sufficient understanding of our material. How to manipulate it, how I could develop it into different applications, and how to manufacture it to commercial scale – to answer all the other questions that our prospective partners would ask of us,” Cooper explained.
Pertinax is in talks with wound care companies, animal health groups and dental material companies to license out its controlled-release chlorhexidine.
“Chlorhexidine’s a very common antiseptic,” Barbour said. “It’s been used in animal and human healthcare since the ’60s very routinely for lots of different applications. The limitation is its solubility.”
Chlorhexidine is a very soluble material, washing away immediately when it’s placed in a wet environment. Barbour’s chlorhexidine salts, however, have a much lower solubility.
“When dry, they are stable white powders and so for things like storage and shelf life, they have very few limitations placed on them,” she explained. “When those dry white powders come into contact with some moisture, some water or a solution, then they gradually release the chlorhexidine content over an extended period.”
The company has a variety of chlorhexidine salts, each with different rates of release. So if a partner needed an initial burst of chlorhexidine followed by a lower but continuous dose, Pertinax would mix more than one of its salts together.
The team has also discovered that chlorhexidine release is accelerated under acidic conditions.
“You can picture a situation where you’ve got a dental adhesive or a dental cement that is pretty stable. Then the bacteria start to build up and they start to release acids which threaten to start damaging your teeth, then the chlorhexidine release is accelerated and therefore will nip that in the bud,” Barbour said.
Looking ahead, the company plans to transfer its chlorhexidine production to a contract manufacturer so it can scale up GMP production for prospective commercial partners, according to Cooper.
Pertinax also hopes to start consummating some of the commercial partnerships that the company is currently negotiating.
For Barbour, the formal launch of Pertinax Pharma represents a moment that she has been working towards for years.
“In some senses it’s a culmination of the whole of work that I and my colleagues have put in over the last ten years,” she said. “In another sense, it’s the first steps. It feels like a whole new beginning. I suppose an end and a beginning in its own way.”