A Pounds 4 million agreement between Edinburgh University and a leading Japanese drug company may lead to better treatment for stroke victims and people suffering from neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer's Disease.
The Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Company has already given Pounds 3.5 million support to the Fujisawa Institute of Neuroscience, which was set up in Edinburgh's pharmacology department in 1989, and has now pledged another Pounds 4 million over the next five years.
The institute carries out research into disorders of the central nervous system, searching for new medicines to treat these. Director John Kelly said there were two main aims: to reduce the initial injury after a stroke, and to help people with impaired memory to use their remaining memory more efficiently.
There had been dramatic improvements in the treatment of heart attack patients over the past decade, Professor Kelly said. The institute's researchers believed there were compounds which could similarly reduce injury to the brain. Drugs might also improve the quality of life for elderly people and their carers, he said.
"Our aims initially are quite modest. Simple things like remembering to go to the bathroom and remembering where the bathroom is would make life much easier both for themselves and their carers. We are looking for quite minor changes in memory pattern."
The compounds being investigated had already been involved in treating other diseases, Professor Kelly said. The institute's aim was to produce drugs which did not have side-effects.
Under the present contract, Fujisawa has funded five career scientists on university contracts, supported a number of PhD students, and seconded a co-director and two Japanese senior scientists from the company. Another two posts in molecular neurobiology will be created under the new contract, negotiated by UnivEd Technologies, Edinburgh's commercial liaison company.
Edinburgh's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland, said: "This is enterprise in action. It shows that industry and the university system can come together with positive long-term benefits."
"The links we have formed through this contract are important for the local economy, academic research, and furthering the cause of medicine. Human welfare is at the end of this particular story."
Neurosciences in Edinburgh have also won major awards from the Medical Research Council, and Professor Kelly stressed that funding from a company such as Fujisawa was complementary, rather than an alternative to funding from bodies such as the MRC. Commercial support enabled researchers to tackle riskier problems, with Fujisawa spending millions of pounds on "a good guess".