Arctic Nutrition in western Norway produces a dietary supplement derived from herring roe that appears to have beneficial effects on the chronic itchy skin condition psoriasis. With EU funding, it has been able to study the feasibility of transforming it into a pharmaceutical drug with potential to reach a worldwide market. “The EU grant for the PsoraxPlan project was used to do a very thorough feasibility assessment of whether we could lift the product from being a dietary supplement – improve it, make it more concentrated with different kinds of manufacturing methods and make a pharmaceutical compound,” says project coordinator Knut Smerud, clinical development advisor at Arctic Nutrition. The biotech company is based in Ørsta, Norway and develops marine products from sustainable local fisheries. Once on the market, the drug, called HRO, could be the first oral medication for mild to moderate psoriasis. It could also have some positive effects on conditions such as arthritis and some cardiovascular complications. Current psoriasis topical ointments have limited efficacy. “For a small company, changing a product from being an off-the-shelf, dietary supplement to an effective, safe drug with all the extra requirements that entails, is a major undertaking,” notes Smerud.
Discovering herring roe properties
The company’s founder and chief scientific officer Hogne Hallaråker, a marine biologist, found that while trying to breed halibut, many fish were deformed. Smerud explains that experimenting with different feedstuffs, Hallaråker discovered that, by adding herring roe to the feed, the rate of malformed fish went from 50 % down to 5 %. Then he understood that herring roe contains something that has strong biological effects. Hallaråker went on to extract the lipids to produce a dietary supplement in capsule form. “Over the years, there has been anecdotal feedback from customers saying they felt their inflammations were reduced, whether it was arthritis or psoriasis and other conditions,” Smerud says. From 2017 to 2018, the company sponsored a randomised, double-blind, clinical trial conducted at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen. In this trial, half of the 64 patients with psoriasis took a placebo and the other half herring roe oil – a more concentrated version of the supplement currently on sale. “We saw a statistically significant difference between the active ingredient group and the placebo group,” Smerud explains, adding: “The results, recently published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, showed that it works, so now robust clinical development will go forward.”
Changing to pharmaceutical production
The pilot trial data was fully analysed under PsoraxPlan. The team also looked into the feasibility of developing a medicine. Åge Nærdal, in charge of pharmaceutical development at Arctic Nutrition, explains that they had to consider all the processes and steps needed to get regulatory and marketing authorisation for a new drug in Europe, and around the world. “The feasibility study helped us to confirm that it’s valuable to go ahead,” says Smerud. They were assisted by an EU expert on drug manufacturing. “These are complex processes, and this is the first drug our company intends to produce, so there is obviously a lot of learning involved for all of us,” adds Runhild Gammelsæter, global medical director at Arctic Nutrition. The company is now planning to build a manufacturing plant in Ørsta. “We would like to keep as much of the value chain as possible in Norway and as close as possible to the roe, which is harvested on the west coast,” Nærdal says.
PsoraxPlan, psoriasis, arthritis, herring roe, dietary supplement, drug manufacturing, fisheries, marine products