The ancient Greek word euzoia means well-being or in modern parlance, the good life. For Athens-born Dr Sotiris Missailidis, it offered an ideal title for his company, as his goal is the delivery of scientific, pharmaceutical and educational services on projects that actively seek the longevity and improvement of the wellbeing of the individual.

The emphasis in medicine has now swung firmly towards early diagnosis and prognosis of disease, as these offer the best route to combating illness and the improvement in the wellbeing of the individual through to old age.

Dr Missailidis took his first degree in Athens before moving to York University in 1992, for his Masters and PhD. He held a number of academic posts and, while at Nottingham University in 1996, he started researching aptamers. In 2000, he moved to the Open University at Milton Keynes to form an aptamers research group.

Aptamers are small pieces of DNA that can fold in various ways to recognise shapes and can bind to target molecules.

They can be used as therapeutics, carrying a drug to the disease site, or as a diagnostic, seeking to detect the illness in its formative stages.

In those early days of his research, Dr Missailidis found just half-a-dozen papers on aptamers. Now he has become a leading authority and one of the most published scientists on the subject.

He explained: “My background has been in the field of cancer and oncology — solid tumours — so I have been working on aptamers for cancer.”

Small molecule chemotherapy tends to be less effective in the long-term and has side-effects. Antibodies — proteins that are used by the immune system to identify and neutralise a disease — are often too big to penetrate inside a tumour.

For various reasons, including blood flows, even those that do penetrate can weaken en route. The further the penetration, the fewer the antibody molecules that get through.

As therapeutics, aptamers can inhibit the action of enzymes, to slow the rate of disease action. They can carry toxins or radio treatments to receptors on cancer cells and so are a targeted therapy.

For diagnostics, they can mark a disease site or sites, producing standard biomarkers such as fluorescent indicators or colour changes.

These markers show up on tests or in examinations like MRI scans. So while some tests have to be sent from a clinic to the laboratory, some offer what is known as point of care or POC, on-the-spot results.

“The pharma and drug companies are now very interested in aptamers,” Dr Missailidis said.

This led to the formation of Euzoia in 2007, to both research and manufacture aptamers. Until demand grew, there was no technology push so that aptamers could be manufactured cheaply.

That technology now exists, and the patents on both diagnostic and therapeutic variants, held by US companies Somalogic and Archemix respectively, have expired.

This has made life far easier for Euzoia. Archemix was open to collaborations with outside companies, but Somalogic kept an iron grip on its rights to make diagnostics.

While the basic protocols to make aptamers are quite simple, the devil is in the detail, requiring a tailored approach so that each meets a specific target and can be validated.

The company’s business model is slightly unusual but effective.

Because Dr Missailidis is such a ‘name’ in the world of aptamers, clients seek him out and ask him to develop against specific targets.

Using a library of synthesised nucleic acid sequences — either made in-house or purchased — each sequence is validated against the target to choose which sequence or sequences bind the best.

Those that do are copied and amplified and the stronger ones knock out the weaker ones during testing.

Once identified, the sequences can be tailored to make them more stable, or by attaching probes or labels. Starting with a library of 1015 sequences, this enormous number can take up to three months to whittle down to the chosen few. Some clients want just the few that bind the best, others a larger number, in case the sequence with the best efficacy against the target is not actually the best binder.

Some of the work is consultancy, training clients in aptamers, their use and research.

Euzoia generates its income from contracts and projects, with the aim of growing organically by increasing those contracts.

Angel funds or venture capital are not presently on the agenda.

Dr Missailidis is still full-time at the Open University and juggles his time between Milton Keynes and the Diagnox laboratories at Upper Heyford.

He is assisted by Dr Suzanne Simmons, who studied for her PhD under Dr Missailidis.

And he is is full of praise for the fully-equipped Diagnox labs.

He said: “They are invaluable and have allowed us to hit the ground running.”

Name: Euzoia Established: 2007

Chief executive: Dr Sotiris Missailidis Number of staff: Two Annual turnover: Confidential

Contact: 01869 280000 Web: