Published on 20/02/2024
Extracellular vesicles digital render
  • EVolution Therapeutics (EVo) has been founded on the work of Professor Andrew Devitt into the causes of inflammatory disease
  • A failure to control inflammation in the body, usually a natural defence mechanism, can cause chronic inflammation, such as non-healing wounds
  • Non-healing wounds cost the NHS £5.6bn annually, so there is a vital need for new treatments.

Aston University’s Professor Andrew Devitt, Dr Ivana Milic and Dr James Gavin have launched a new spin-out company to  develop revolutionary treatments to treat chronic inflammation in patients.

One of the most common inflammatory conditions is non-healing wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers, which cost the NHS £5.6bn annually, the same cost as managing obesity. Such wounds are generally just dressed, but clinicians say there is a vital need for active wound treatments, rather than passive management. The spin-out, Evolution Therapeutics (EVo), will aim to create these vital active treatments.

Inflammation in the human body helps to fight infection and repair damage following injury and occurs when the immune system floods the area with immune cells. Normally, this inflammation subsides as the damage heals, with the immune system signalling to the immune cells to leave. However, in some cases, the usual healing mechanism is not triggered and the inflammatory response is not turned off, leading to chronic inflammation and so-called inflammatory diseases.

EVo is based on Professor Devitt’s work on dying cells in the body, known as apoptotic cells, and how they contribute to health. Dying cells release small, membrane-enclosed fragments called extracellular vesicles (EVs), which alert the immune system to the death of cells, and then trigger the body’s natural repair mechanism and remove the dead cells. It is estimated that 1m cells die every second. Professor Devitt and his team have identified the molecules within the EVs which control the healing process and are engineering new EVs loaded with novel healing enzymes, to drive the body’s repair responses to actively heal wounds.

Much of the research has been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) with additional support from the Dunhill Medical Trust. Professor Devitt, Dr Milic and Dr Gavin received Innovation-to-Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) follow-on funding of £284,000 to develop the vesicle-based therapy with EVo.

Most recently, in December 2023, Professor Devitt and Dr Milic were awarded £585,000 from the BBSRC Super Follow-on-Fund to develop engineered cells as a source of membrane vesicles carrying inflammation controlling cargo. The team, together with Professor Paul Topham, also received funding from the National Engineering Biology Programme (£237,000) to support polymer delivery systems for vesicles.

EVo is one of the 12 projects being supported by SPARK The Midlands, a network which aims to bridge the gap between medical research discoveries of novel therapeutics, medical devices and diagnostics, and real-world clinical use. SPARK The Midlands is hosted at Aston University, supported by the West Midlands Health Tech Innovation Accelerator (WMHTIA), and was launched at an event on 31 January 2024.

Professor Devitt, EVo chief technical officer, said:

“Inflammation is the major driver of almost all disease with a huge contribution to those unwelcome consequences of ageing. We are now at a most exciting time in our science where we can harness all the learning from our research to develop targeted and active therapies for these chronic inflammatory conditions.”

Dr Gavin, EVo CEO, said:

“The chronic inflammation that results in non-healing wounds are a huge health burden to individuals affecting quality of life as we age but also to the economy. Our approach at EVo is to target the burden of non-healing wounds directly to provide completely novel approaches to wound care treatment. By developing a therapy which actively accelerates wound healing, we hope to drastically improve quality of life for patients, whilst reducing the high cost attached to long term treatment for healthcare systems worldwide.”

Notes to editors

About Aston University

For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.

Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming the Guardian University of the Year in 2020.

Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.

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