The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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A molecule made in malta

Malta Independent Friday, 23 April 2004, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

In the middle of February, you would have read in the local newspapers that a new molecule Maltanedienol, was officially named in honour of the nation of Malta after its discovery by a team of French, Tunisian and Maltese scientists working together on the unique healing properties of Mediterranean seaweed.

The original study was started in France by Dr Gilles P. Gutierrez from Texinfine when he discovered that the alga Padina pavonica could collect calcium from the surroundings through its fronds. Dr Gutierrez has been working in Malta for the Institute of Cellular Pharmacology (ICP) since the company was created.

The scientists involved in the discovery are Charles Saliba of ICP Malta, and Dr Karim Bendhaou of Larexev, Tunis.

Maltanedienol, a primitive molecule discovered in the algae Padina pavonica, is a new core symmetrical structure linked with the steroid family and demonstrates an effect on calcium metabolism for bone and skin.

I spoke to Dr Gutierrez to further explain in layman terms what their discovery is all about. He gave me a couple of scientific papers covered in diagrams and charts to read but I understood little – nay, I understood nothing – so I asked him to explain their discovery in simple terms.

“The clinical results show that this newly discovered molecule has a potential for regenerating bone and skin loss associated with age,” Dr Gutierrez explained. “This molecule has been created by the first living organism using calcium for structure and communication.”

ICP and Texinfine have established a joint research facility and production unit to produce on an industrial scale Maltanedienol for pharmaceutical and nutritional products to help with the regeneration of bone and skin.

Gilles Gutierrez was born in the Ivory Coast. His brother and himself both studied in the south of France. First of all Gilles studied Paleontology. He continued his studies in Chemistry, Biology, Geology then, after several years of work with different pharmaceutical laboratories and a brief period in the French Tax office he returned to his University studies and graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy in Lyon where he defended his thesis in 1982 on the resistance of polymer to Gamma radiation sterilisation.

In 1983 Texinfine was set up. Its aim is to utilise techniques based on the most recent discoveries in biology and to discover novel active principals.

In 1997 Dr Gutierrez and Charles Saliba set up the Institute of Cellular Pharmacology in Mosta Technopark in order to make the access of primary materials easier. In their research they have collaborated with veterinarians, biologists and other scientists in Malta, as well as Europe and the USA. Dr Gutierrez keeps in touch with clinicians who validate and verify his hypotheses.

He is working with Professor Mark Brincat in Malta and Professor Prescilla Clarkson of the University of Boston in the field of the medicine of sport. There is also collaboration with Professor Wu of the University of Philadelphia on the stress of vegetal material. It is in this way that he has been acquiring a wide competence in the field of applied medical sciences.

And how did the Malta connection come about? In 1992 Dr Gutierrez registered a patent on the surprising activity of Padina pavonica on the metabolism of calcium cells in both humans and animals. The discovery was rapidly confirmed by a primary clinical study. The project needed a solid structure for further development. “This alga does not grow well on the northern shore of the Mediterranean but it grows abundantly on the southern side. Malta is therefore ideally situated: ease of access by sea and air, warm waters, a rocky seabed.” Dr Gutierrez thus explains his choice of Malta and continues: “After a meeting with Minister Censu Galea and with his help, a working party consisting of Professor Carmelo Agius and Charles Saliba was formed and a factory, which has a large capacity for production and analysis, was set up at Mosta Technopark. Hundreds of tonnes of fresh alga have been harvested with the technical assistance of Mel Dives in Mellieha and dozens of tonnes of alga are treated here every month.” On the analytical level Dr Gutierrez has installed ultra modern analytical facilities: High and Medium pressure Liquid Chromatography, Atomic absorption photometer, as well as a cell biology unit with immuno enzymatic assay capability.

Charles and Gilles, as a team, have worked on diverse projects from aquaculture to molecular biology. They travel the world to sell their products and prospect for active principals derived from vegetal material.

And what about the Tunisian connection?

Dr Gutierrez tells me that in view of the increasing demand of the Institute of Cellular Pharmacology’s products worldwide, they needed to secure and increase their activity: “This includes the culture and collection of raw material used for our process. Since the raw material used is vegetal material (Padina pavonica) we need several sources of it and harvesting sites to respect the environmental nature”.

The company also needs to secure its future with the increasing demand of products as well as reduce the risk of complete disaster following an ecological or environmental incident.

So the Institute has been working for a number of years with Dr Karim Bendhaou (Larexev) in Tunisia to establish Padina farms and assess the ecologic impact for harvesting, cultivating and potential risk from pollution. Larexev is also responsible for obtaining the necessary authorisation from the Tunisian authorities to cultivate and collect Padina. “We have established a company called Larexev in Tunisia to do this work and dry and powder. We have already established that the dry powder is stable but the concentrations of the active ingredient present is variable from batch to batch.” The dry alga is sent to Malta for production of the extract.

We have already heard that Maltanedienol is also used in upper range beauty creams. In Dr Gutierrez’s own words: “We produce several different kinds of extracts from the alga that can be used for a number of different applications. Some of them are to produce active ingredients for the cosmetic industry. We produce standardised stabilised extracts that can be incorporated into different excipients. These cosmetic extracts can then be incorporated into skin care products by various cosmetic laboratories. We sell these products in concentrated bulk through specialised agencies such as Alban Muller International based in Paris. Alban Muller International is able to target our products through their contacts and resources to very large world recognised laboratories (Estee Lauder, Lancôme, L’Oreal, Lierac, Shiseido, Sisley and Sothys). Then the cosmetic companies incorporate them with their own ingredients into finished products.”

The extract from Padina pavonica has been demonstrated to induce the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans by skin cells. This helps to replenish, reinforce and revitalise the skin. This type of activity forms the basis of most forms of anti-aging and anti-wrinkling creams. Dr Gutierrez explains: “The fact that we demonstrate this activity as part of our standard quality control on every batch of extract that we produce makes our product a very technical product.” The team is also involved with these laboratories to demonstrate the effect of these extracts used in their creams, in human field marketing trials. Dr Gutierrez continues: “Consequently most of our customers use our product in the top range cosmetics as this type of work is rather expensive to carry out and they can justify asking a higher price for their cosmetics. They can back their claims with biological and ‘clinical field trial’ results.”

In 1997 Professor Mark Bricat obtained the approval of the Ethical Committee to carry out clinical studies in Malta to study the effect of Padina pavonica on calcium metabolism and calcium fixation. This work was carried out under his directorship with

Dr Raymond Galea. “The results from this study indicated that there could be an interesting use for Padina pavonica in human calcium metabolism. The preliminary results from this study were first published at an international conference in Yokohama Japan in 1999 and the final results were published in Washington in 2000. The product is today recognised as a food under European regulation and is on sale in a number of European countries as a food. We are at present registering this product as a food under the FDA regulations for free sale in the USA.”

How does the Padina work on calcium metabolism? He replies: “The mode of action is well known on cell culture. Without going into too much detail, we can say that the Padina helps osteoblasts to synthesise the organic matrix of their tissue. Then the calcium will have a substrate where it can be fixed. Because of this activity the cell can increase the extracellular matrix material and improve the overall appearance of the skin.”

Since his association with Malta Dr Gutierrez has discovered several very original molecules. He maintains that it is thanks to the welcome and help he has had here that he has been able to work so well. In recognition of this fact he has decided to name the active part of the molecule, Maltane. Gilles considers this as the beginning of the story. He is at present working along side Mr Charles Saliba, Professor Brincat and Dr Raymond Galea in the human field as well as Professor Agius in the animal and marine biology field.

There are other scientific discoveries which are being developed by this team of scientists and which will be of benefit for Malta. This is not just an empty claim: Claire Baluci is currently working on stress proteins, and several thesis have already been defended through the research of this team. The major targets are the role of stress proteins, degenerative metabolism linked with ageing and memory storage regulation of water transfer in body compartments through aquaporine.

Several applications in the medical, cosmetic and animal husbandry fields will be patented very soon.

And all this is happening in tiny Malta!

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