Biotech start-up seeks fat profit

A recent biotech start-up is hoping to capitalise on the growing problem of obesity with a series of products designed to block absorption of fats and carbohydrates.

Alizyme, a company founded in 1994, has raised pounds 2.5m through a private placing of its shares with institutions. The firm's scientists hope to find a drug to control the body's tendency to get fat.

The company has been granted the rights to research several compounds. Among those it hopes to progress to human trials is AZM-016, an amylase inhibitor. In the stomach this breaks down amylase, an enzyme used to reduce carbohydrates to sugars, which are then otherwise absorbed into the blood. Another compound, AZM-008, would inhibit lipase, an enzyme that breaks fats down into fatty acids.

Any resulting drugs will not be available over the counter at chemists. "Our products will be prescription only," said Andrew Porter, a founding director, who used to work as a pharmaceuticals analyst in the City.

The latest Government survey, The Health of the Nation, showed that obesity is on the increase. In 1980, 6 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women were considered obese. By 1993, the percentage had grown to 13 per cent in men, and 16 per cent of women. On that trend, the problem will have become substantially worse after the turn of the century, with Britain catching up on the US, where fatties abound.

Treatment, on the other hand, has failed to keep pace and to prevent the associated problems: heart disease, diabetes and post-operative risk.

Alizyme this weekend announced the creation of a scientific advisory board. Dr Tony Leeds, who is on Alizyme's panel and is a lecturer at King's College and a government adviser, says the market for obesity products has enormous potential. "A decrease in physical activity plays a large part," he said. "Even things such as automatic windows in cars have an effect."

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