Startup develops analgesic for chronic pain from the Algarve sea

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The startup Sea4Us is close to licensing a new painkiller discovered in marine organisms off the coast of the Algarve, which could relieve the chronic pain of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

After more than 10 years of research, this Portuguese company in the field of advanced biotechnology, based in Sagres, Vila do Bispo, has no secret of its ambition to sell the discovery to one of the ‘sharks’ of the global pharmaceutical industry.

Chronic pain is a disease that afflicts one in five people worldwide, a proportion that is higher in the Portuguese population, Pedro Lima, researcher and scientific director of Sea4Us, told Lusa.

The company is developing the first non-opioid marine analgesic which, if all goes as planned, will be effective in treating chronic pain without causing addiction or side effects, because it does not centrally affect the brain, he said.

“What we’re developing is an alternative to opioids, morphine and the like, which do relieve pain in many cases and others don’t, but have sometimes terrible side effects,” explained the neurophysiologist and marine biologist.

The very likely future new medicine is possible thanks to the particular characteristics of marine organisms that have evolved and are embedded in the rocks of caves and cavities on the Algarve coast, near Sagres, in the district of Faro.

Lusa accompanied one of the trips, in a semi-rigid boat, from Sagres, in which a Sea4Us team, led by Pedro Lima, dived along a cliff on the Algarve’s south coast, between the town’s fishing port and Ponta da Atalaia, to collect sponges and other marine organisms from the rocks.

“It’s in these organisms, like the ones we took, that we found a chemistry that is beyond human ingenuity. Human ingenuity cannot synthesize these forms that we find in these animals. This is our concept,” he said, after a dive that lasted around half an hour.

Sagres is the main location for collecting marine samples, where Sea4Us has equipment on its premises to process the samples, but pre-clinical development is carried out at the Physiology Laboratory of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

The company also networks with other entities, such as the University of the Algarve and other educational institutions in Europe, the United States and Japan, as well as companies that develop a wide variety of substances.

“Our concept is to take it [the product] to a point – we hope to reach it in a year and a half – where we can license it to one of these ‘sharks’ [multinationals in the pharmaceutical sector],” he said.

The company is now carrying out the tests that precede the first clinical trials on humans, and if everything goes as expected, it can move on to licensing and pharmaceutical companies can put the product on the market, which could take around five years.

Sea4Us assumes that it doesn’t have the money needed to carry out all the tests on human guinea pigs and that it would like to sell its project in about a year and a half’s time, at the start of human trials.

So far, the company has invested between 1.5 and 2 million euros in this project, with the help of public funds, and hopes to continue investing in others, some of which have already begun, which will make it possible to fight diseases such as overactive bladder, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy or epilepsy.

Iris Lavan
Iris Lavan
With a background as a consultant in the medical industry, Iris Lavan brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Portugal Pulse. Iris also runs a company in Tel Aviv offering marketing, business development, content creation and public relations services. She holds a degree in economics and management, giving her a solid grounding in business strategy and financial planning. Iris' commitment to Portugal Pulse is reflected not only in her consulting career, but also in her impact on the Portugale media landscape in Israel. She was an interviewer for Hadshot Portugal חדשות פורטוגל, a media outlet that broadcasts news about Portugal in Hebrew, where she provided valuable information on current affairs, healthcare and the economy. Since July 2023, Iris has also been part of the Portugal Pulse team.

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