Case study on the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Quest Pharm Ltd and Aston University, funded by Innovate UK.

About Quest Pharm Ltd

Quest Pharm Ltd is a UK-based pharmaceutical company that reformulates, manufactures and distributes medicines in niche therapy areas to meet specific patient needs. Its focus is to develop formulations where no suitable approved medicines exist. 

The challenge that the KTP was set up to address

High doses of chemotherapy can lead to a range of unpleasant side effects in cancer patients, one of which is a severe ulceration of the mucus membrane in the mouth, called mucositis. The condition can be very painful and makes it uncomfortable for many cancer patients to eat and drink.

This project aimed to develop a way of formulating the first commercially available oral tablet to both protect the damaged mucus membrane and speed up the natural regeneration of damaged tissue within the mouth.

Quest Pharm Ltd required a new approach to formulating a series of natural products together in one oral tablet that dissolves as soon as it enters the mouth. This is so it quickly coats and protects the damaged membranes and accelerates recovery.

Why a KTP was the ideal route

Aston University’s recent research in developing and optimising novel formulations for tablets that disintegrate in the mouth enabled Quest Pharm Ltd to develop a novel formulation for this product. Accessing and embedding Aston University’s extensive track record in formulating cost-effective, patient-friendly medicines was fundamental to the project’s success, it is unlikely that contract research organisations would possess this knowledge.

The formulation method created a product that:

  • remained intact in the product packaging,
  • dissolved and dispersed rapidly after making contact with saliva,
  • stuck to the mucosal lining while allowing mucus to pass through,
  • contained natural products already licensed for use in humans, accelerating development and the route to market.

The KTP Associate had the skills to research, identify and formulate a robust combination of materials and natural products for this product.

Quest Pharm Ltd’s expertise in considering the specific needs of patients when developing medicines meant the partnership was able to identify and develop two products to meet patient needs.

What has changed as a result of the KTP and next steps?

The partnership has led to the rapid formulation of two new natural products that have the ability to quickly dissolve in the mouth and protect and repair ulcerated mucosal tissue. These are now ready to enter clinical trials.

The two products created are the first treatments designed to provide long-term relief and protection against painful ulceration that prevents many chemotherapy patients from being able to comfortably eat and drink.

The partnership has also enabled Quest Pharm Ltd to apply newly gained expertise and understanding of formulation to the development of commercial products for other conditions.

Broad benefits and impacts for all partners

For Quest Pharm Ltd:

  • The approach of combining existing, natural ingredients has rapidly accelerated the development process. Proof-of-concept data has been generated and two new products are now ready to enter clinical trials.
  • The technical abilities gained will be retained by the company, enhancing their market position and providing opportunities to develop further commercial products that can be used to treat similar conditions.

For Aston University:

  • The addition of a KTP Associate with a background in analytical chemistry and formulation provided the project with dedicated expertise to research and develop an effective formulation.
  • Collaborating on the design and development of commercial products has provided academics with industry insights into considering patient needs when designing medicines. This approach can be applied to other research projects that look for treatments for neglected patient groups.

For KTP Associate:

  • In addition to enhancing their formulation skills, the KTP Associate has gained valuable experience and transferrable skills in project management, dissemination, stakeholder management, and data analysis.

Benefits for patients

This is the first product designed to provide long-term relief for chemotherapy patients experiencing the painful effects of severe mouth ulceration. Following clinical trials, this treatment could be suitable for 60% of patients undergoing chemotherapy who experience challenges chewing and swallowing food because of ulceration in the mouth. The unique formulation means that, if given early enough, the treatment can minimise damage to the mucosal lining, as well as speed up the healing process.

What the partners say

Professor Afzal-Ur-Rahman Mohammed, Aston Pharmacy School, Aston University:

“The KTP has shown us how the research we do and the problems we are working on can translate into a beneficial product that can make a big difference to patients. The addition of a knowledgeable KTP Associate who can bridge both the academic and industry sides of this project has been key to its success.”

Dr Daniel Kirby, Senior Lecturer, Aston Pharmacy School:

“This project is a testament to formulation expertise at Aston University Pharmacy School and builds on our legacy to deliver translational research that benefits people and the wider society.”

Roderick Stewart, KTP Associate:

“Having the opportunity to work on this project has been really beneficial for my career development. Being a key member of the product development team, and getting the product concepts ready for market, has provided me with a wide range of new skills and techniques that will make me more employable in the future. It has been quite a fulfilling process.”

Majad Hussain, Director, Quest Pharm Ltd:

“Combining the expertise and resources of both the KTP Associate and Aston University, we have been able to rapidly develop two commercially viable medicinal products that will help chemotherapy patients overcome the painfully limiting effects of mucositis. Tapping into Aston University’s research expertise in this area is fundamental to getting this project off the ground, and means that our unique products are now ready to take forwards into clinical trials.”