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BiBerChem provides chemical compounds essential for biological and medical research at competitive prices compared to those available from existing commercial sources.

The company can also provide selected compounds that are unavailable commercially. Its products have particular applications for researchers studying conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, and could play an important role in the development of new treatments.

The company was started by former Newcastle University student Dr Bian Zhang after completing his PhD in Medical Chemistry at Newcastle, and Professor Bernard T Golding, one of his academic supervisors. They realised that while glycerolipids and derived phospholipids were important in drug research, the cost of the compounds could be prohibitive.

BiBerChem aims to provide academic and pharmaceutical industry research groups with compounds such as plasmalogens – a special type of phospholipid widely distributed in the cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems of humans – at relatively low cost.

Bian, a Chinese national, received support from Newcastle University’s START UP team to help develop the business and, with their endorsement, was awarded a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa that allowed him to remain in the UK. This kept the ground-breaking technology and expertise in the North East, adding to the region’s science and technology cluster and providing a potential boost to the local economy. Bian has since gone on to secure an Exceptional Talent visa, which will enable him to continue to drive the business forward in the region.

The company’s initial focus is on producing plasmalogens because there is intensive, ongoing research to define their physiological role. Deficiencies are implicated in respiratory disease and neurodegeneration as well as gastrointestinal cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, for which plasmalogen replacement therapy might be a benefit. BiBerChem also carries out research into new methods of synthesising other key compounds, including phosphatidyl inositols, sphingolipids and cardiolipins. The company can also supply substances for use in drug delivery systems.

Bernard Golding, who is also a Senior Research Investigator in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, explains: “We aim to get ourselves into a position where we can make a range of compounds at relatively low cost and sell them profitably. Making compounds available for less will certainly help research into conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. There are also possible downstream therapeutic applications, but what is certainly possible is that we can aid research on plasmalogens in the context of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.”

Prof Bernard Golding (left) and Dr Bian Zhang in their laboratory at The Biosphere, Newcastle Helix