A drug development team at the University of Aberdeen has been handed a cash pot of £1.5 million to help it advance multiple novel experimental treatments based on the immune system of sharks.

Scottish Enterprise and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council are providing the financial support to help researchers progress candidates targeting diseases such as cancer and inflammatory conditions.

The technologies in development - which will be spun out of the University into a company later this year - use small man-made proteins that are closely related to tiny structures called Variable Novel Antigen Receptors (VNARS) present in the shark immune system.

The team of ex-industry professionals and academics has engineered VNARs to both develop new drugs as well as improve their delivery. Because they are so small, they should be able to better penetrate solid cancer tumours, and should be able to cross into the brain, they say.

One of the VNARs produced by the team can "significantly extend the effective life of existing and new drugs in the body", increasing their potency from just hours to weeks.

In addition, their size and simple structure could makes them "much cheaper medicines" than other related therapies, the researchers note.

So far, the team has produced over 10 billion of these drug-like molecules, comprising a drug library which, they say, is the “equivalent to having access to 10,000 sharks without needing to keep a single animal in an aquarium”.