News

New Network Manager

The start of November saw the LSRNW gain another manager as Luiza Patorski joins the Network as Dr Angharad Watson’s job share, to provide support while Dr Watson is seconded to the Wellcome Trust.

Luiza studied Biochemistry at Cardiff University and following a short stint in an R&D lab working on lateral flow tests moved into science communication. She looked after the schools and family programme at the Cheltenham Science Festival for a number of years before becoming the Programme Manager at Science Oxford, looking after the year-round programme.

Alongside her role in LSRNW she also looks after the Cardiff Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) network and is the link to the wider GW4 AMR Alliance.


Advanced Therapies Congress & Expo 2021

The LSRNW attended our first virtual conference this year, joining the Advanced Therapies Congress and Expo 2021. The meeting ran over 3 days, and here’s a brief run down of the talks we attended:

Keynote Panel Discussion: State of the Industry

The discussion was chaired by Vivienne Parry, Head of Engagement at Genomics England, and had panelists from Novartis, Bluebird Bio, Atara Bio, and Kite Pharma, a Gilead company. The panel were extremely positive about the future for gene therapy, following the recent success seen in treating SMA-1. Regarding cell therapy, the panel were keen to point out that there is more to be excited about than just CAR-T cells and oncology, although this, in itself, remains a very positive area, with positive indications in the move to apply this technology to solid tumours. They highlighted the applications for cell-based therapies in autoimmune indications and for stem cell gene therapy. Future areas of growth include allogeneic cell therapy, and increased clinical application of CRISPR/Cas 9 gene editing.

Roundtable with the regulators: Ensuring clinical success

With 132 people joining the session, regulatory issues are clearly a hot topic in ATMP, as you might expect. With speakers from the FDA and the MHRA, there was lots to discuss, and lots of input from the delegates. Key questions were raised around the rolling reviews that the MHRA have implemented during the COVID pandemic; Janet Glassford, representing the MHRA, indicated that in future is likely that the MHRA will be returning to their standard procedures once the pandemic is over.

An interesting point was raised by the FDA’s Peter Marks around viral vectors, who suggested a future move away from viral vectors, pointing out that while AAV vectors are (correctly) designated as non-integrating, at very high doses some genomic integration has been observed. Glassford (MHRA) suggested that the real-world success of mRNA vaccines might see a move towards direct use of nucleic acids, without the need for viral vectors at all.

The final note came from Debra Miller, CEO of CureDuchenne, who, I think, spoke for all rare disease patients and advocates when she said she would like to see the sense of urgency that was generated by the pandemic maintained – the fatality rate for most rare diseases is 100%, and these patients don’t have time on their side.

Gamma delta T cells: Potential off the shelf treatment for solid tumours – John Maher

An entirely different tone was struck by the talk delivered by John Maher, “Gamma delta T cells: Potential off the shelf treatment for solid tumours”. While he was there mainly in his capacity as CSO for Leucid, Maher’s talk felt very academic, with lots of nice data regarding his studies into the expansion of gamma delta T cells using IL2 and TGF beta. Of particular interest to me was the finding that these cells upregulated CXCR4, suggesting improved homing. I’m not sure whether I misunderstood, however, when he also mentioned them upregulating E-selectin – sadly my notes shed no further light on whether he was actually referring to E-selectin ligands, or whether he did indeed find E-selectin expressed on T cells, in contrast to their usual endothelial expression. If anyone else has better notes – let me know! Mysteries around E-selectin aside, interested preclinical data were presented that aligned with the hypothesis that these cells had improved homing, particularly to the bone marrow, and that they also produced more cytotoxic cytokines.

Roundtable: All the things you were too afraid to ask about funding a new technology or financing a new company

On the final day, some interesting tips were available from experts representing VC and investment companies, in the Roundtable “All the things you were too afraid to ask about funding a new technology or financing a new company”. Speakers form Antion Biosciences, Seroba Life Sciences, Syncona Investment Management Ltd and 4BIO Capital had the following advice:

  • Make sure your pitch demonstrates your passion and motivation.
  • View your relationship with your VC partners as long-term, and make sure they’re people you’re happy to work with! Make sure your visions align, and that everybody’s timescales and expectations are realistic.
  • Make sure your company valuation is grounded in reality, although they do understand that early-stage tech is hard to value.
  • Solid pre-clinical safety data is very positive – and you should ensure this is using the best model, not just the one you have to hand. If several models are needed, do this, and explain why. CROs/CDMOs can be useful partners for this stage, and VCs are likely to give additional credibility to their results
  • If there’s a standard of care that you can compare your innovation to, that is really useful.
  • Be honest – if you haven’t done something that is key to the preclinical data due to cost, say this. It shows that you know what you’re doing, even if you haven’t been able to do it yet.

Attracting, Retaining and Training Talent

The final session I attended was focused on Attracting, Retaining and Training Talent, an area close to our hearts at LSRNW. It’s estimated that by 2030, the UK will need 130,000 skilled workers in this area in order to deliver on our goals for ATMPs. The talk was very London-centric, with representatives from Imperial College, KCL and London Advanced Therapies. Given the existence of the Midlands and Wales Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre, I felt there was a lot that Wales could learn about developing local expertise in this area. Of particular note was KCL’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Therapies: From Bench to Market MSc course, as well as their Biological and Advanced Therapies short courses. There were some interesting viewpoints from Yvette Cleland (CPL Life Sciences) who talked about how apprenticeships are underused as a method of upskilling the existing workforce. Indeed, any extensive discussion about the “leaky pipeline” and the issue of maintaining a skilled life sciences workforce post-PhD was missing from this otherwise in-depth session.

If you’re doing research in this area, make sure to book your place at our Advanced Therapies Special Event on June 17th 2021.


New Network Manager

We are excited to announce that the LSRNW has a new Manager, Dr Angharad Watson, who joined the Network on February 1st, 2021.

Dr Watson holds a Biochemistry degree from Oxford University, and a PhD in Biomedicine from the University of Manchester. She originally joined Cardiff University as a post-doctoral researcher in the School of Medicine, researching cell-based immunotherapy for solid tumours.

She spent some time as a Senior Scientist at PsiOxus Therapeutics, before returning to Cardiff as an Impact Officer working on the REF Impact submission for the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences.

Dr Watson’s appointment marks the start of a new and exciting phase for the Network.


5th Annual Drug Discovery Congress 2018

The annual Drug Discovery Congress successfully brought together drug discovery scientists from across Wales in a collaborative environment to foster new research collaborations.

The programme included presentations by PhD and postdoctoral award holders, revealing a wealth of talent in their research to develop new therapeutic treatments in the areas of Oncology, Neuroscience and Infectious Disease.

Presentations were also delivered by Dr Alan Parker of Cardiff University and Dr George Johnson of Swansea University, who detailed the progression of research projects supported by NRN funding; Professor Cathy Thornton of Swansea University spoke about drug discovery in pregnancy and paediatrics, whilst Professor Paul Dyson of Swansea University spoke about the development of his research in bacterial mediated RNA interference as a therapy for solid tumours, a project initially funded by the NRN. Dr Justin John spoke about the development of NRN Technologies Ltd, a contract research organisation developed from NRN Platform Technologies.

Vaughan Gething AM, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, opened the second day of the event, where he outlined current health priorities for Welsh Government.

Since the Network began in late 2013 with funding from the Welsh Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, £5.9 million has been committed direct to Network drug discovery projects across Wales, facilitating collaborative engagement with over 330 partners. Bringing together leading academics from Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea Universities in over 143 research projects, £34.6 million in additional research funding has been generated and researchers have presented their work in over 361 conference presentations and had over 118 papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

The Network has surpassed the key performance indicators set by funders at project outset and these levels of output highlight the quality and quantity of research being undertaken by Network projects across Wales.

The Network has worked closely with a number of industry partners, the NHS and other major funding bodies with a strong focus on links to other funders, such as the Life Sciences Bridging Fund.

The Network was delighted to award the following prizes to PhD and postdoctoral project award holders at Congress 2018:

Round 3 PhD Studentships:

First Prize: Ben Thomas, Aberystwyth University: Mining ‘Omic data for novel antimicrobials using the AMPLY pipeline (pictured below, left)

Runner-up: David Cutress, Aberystwyth University: Towards Validation of an immune suppressor protein from liver fluke as a drug target (pictured below, right)

Round 4 PhD Studentships:

First Prize: Olivia Ogle, Cardiff University: Targeting zinc signalling to prevent cell division in cancer (below, left)

Runner-up: Benjamin Skalkoyannis, Swansea University: Targeting of interleukin-13 receptor (IL-13R) a2 expressing pancreatic cancer by a novel hybrid lytic peptide drug (below, right)

Postdoctoral award winner

Dr Helena Robinson, Bangor University: Small molecule inhibitors of Brachyury

Speakers:

Dr Alan Parker (top left), Dr George Johnson (top middle), Professor Cathy Thornton (top right), Vaughan Gething AM (bottom left), Professor Paul Dyson (bottom middle) and Dr Justin John (bottom right).


Life Sciences Research Network Congress brings together Wales’ finest Drug Discovery researchers

The 5th Annual Scientific Drug Discovery Congress will take place at the St David’s Hotel & Spa in Cardiff Bay from 11th to 12th September 2018.

This flagship event brings together drug discovery scientists from across Wales, providing the opportunity to develop new collaborations across the scientific community and strengthen the focus to bring new research funding to Welsh institutions.

Funded as part of the Welsh Government’s £50 million Sêr Cymru 1 programme to build research capacity in Wales, this final event in the Network’s lifecycle will showcase the wealth and maturity of Network drug discovery projects across Wales. This year the focus will be on exciting and innovative work being undertaken by final year PhD students and a selection of Postdoctoral researchers, revealing a wealth of research talent as projects advance to the last stage of data analysis and the potential discovery of solutions to areas of unmet medical need. Congress is an opportunity for students and leading academics from across Wales to highlight their research and discuss the challenges faced in developing the next generation of therapeutics. The event will be attended by a number of leading researchers whose work has led to successful commercialisation, as well as industry representatives with substantial experience in drug development.

This year, the Network is delighted to welcome the following key-note speakers: Dr Alan Parker, Reader in Translational Virotherapies at Cardiff University presenting on tumour-selective virotherapies; Dr George Johnson, Associate Professor at Swansea University will present on developing high-throughput genetic toxicity assays; Professor Cathy Thornton, Professor of Immunology at Swansea University who will present on drug discovery in pregnancy and paediatrics and Professor Paul Dyson, Professor of molecular microbiology at Swansea University who will present on bacterial mediated RNA interference as a therapy for solid tumours.

The Network is especially delighted to welcome Vaughan Gething AM, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Sciences at Welsh Government to open Congress on day two:

“The Life Sciences Research Network has not only brought researchers into Wales from across the European Union but it has encouraged inward investment from leading research charities such as Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust. For the last 5 years it has given researchers and students opportunities to bring exciting new research projects into areas that may have previously been under-researched. The Sêr Cymru programme has led to a step change in research capacity and put Wales firmly on the map as a centre of scientific discovery.”

Vaughan Gething, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services.

Since the Network began in late 2013 with funding from the Welsh Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, £5.9 million has been committed direct to Network drug discovery projects across Wales, facilitating collaborative engagement with over 330 partners. Bringing together leading academics from Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea Universities in over 143 research projects, £34.6 million in additional research funding has been generated and researchers have presented their work in over 361 conference presentations and had over 118 papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

The Network has surpassed the key performance indicators set by funders at project outset and these levels of output highlight the quality and quantity of research being undertaken by Network projects across Wales.

The Network has worked closely with a number of industry partners, the NHS and other major funding bodies with a strong focus on links to other funders, such as the Life Sciences Bridging Fund.

Professor Brancale, Network Scientific Director said: “The level of engagement with the Network, from academics has been immense so far. We have seen over 457 new drug discovery project applications submitted for review – and we have supported over 143 projects. The Network has made a real difference by focusing funding on potentially high impact research and supporting the discovery of novel potential therapeutics.”


3rd Sêr Cymru Postgraduate Conference

The third Sêr Cymru Postgraduate Conference attracted 35 PhD students from the three Sêr Cymru National Research Networks to PONTIO Arts Centre in Bangor on 27 March. The day started with insightful and thought-provoking presentations by Adrian Hines, Head of Applied Science at the UK Met Office and Jenny Ames, Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. Both presenters shared their personal career journeys and the presentations provided practical tips on how to apply scientific skills to research careers within and outside academia, as well as other possible career pathways post-PhD.

Following these inspirational talks, the day continued with an interactive workshop to initiate ideas to help the students decide what follows the PhD. Professional coaches challenged the students to identify the key rules and constraints they experience when identifying their career goals; what opportunities and skills they can develop to overcome these; and what actions they can take to proceed towards their goals. Different techniques grounded in research were used to help them identify each of these steps. Feedback on the day was positive and it was clear that dedicated training to focus on their career pathways was of great benefit to the attendees.

Further information can be found at: http://www.nrn-lcee.ac.uk/news/3rd-sêr-cymru-postgraduate-conference-36349


4th LSRNW Annual Drug Discovery Congress

4th LSRNW Annual Drug Discovery Congress, Mercure Holland House Hotel, Cardiff; 29th-30th November 2017.

Our flagship event brought together researchers from across our projects for a 2-day conference to examine and showcase the diverse drug discovery research being undertaken across Wales. NRN PhD students expertly chaired the presentation sessions throughout the 2 days and judged the PhD poster displays. Members of the NRN Management Board and key stakeholders judged excellent presentations delivered by our PhD and postdoctoral project holders, culminating in awards presented at the Gala Dinner.

The scientific programme was further enhanced by presentations delivered by key-note speakers, including Professor Simon Ward from the Medicine Discovery Institute, Cardiff University; Dr Edgar Hartsuiker, Chair of the North-West Cancer Research Institute, Bangor University; Hugh Young Rienhoff, Chief Executive Officer of Imago BioSciences, USA and Professor Paul Morgan, Director of Systems Immunity Research Institute, Cardiff University.

Congress provides a valuable opportunity for stakeholders to examine the progress of their research, share views, exchange ideas and compare experiences whilst discussing theoretical approaches and best practice solutions for further research progression. Awards this year were as follows:

PhD presentations:

Winner: Juan Gonzalez, Cardiff University

Runner up: Kyle Fears, Cardiff University

Highly commended: Alessandra Cavaliere

PhD posters:

Winner: Emma Davies, Aberystwyth University

Runner up: Benjamin Skalkoyannis, Swansea University

Highly commended: Olivia Ogle, Cardiff University

Postdoctoral presentations:

Winner: Dr Polina Yarova, Cardiff University

Runner up: Dr Kathryn Peall, Cardiff University

Highly commended: Dr Samuel Meier-Menches, Cardiff University

Postdoctoral Impact presentations:

Joint winners: Dr Girish Patel, Cardiff University

Dr Nick Jones, Swansea University


4th Annual Drug Discovery Congress 2017

Life Sciences Research Network Congress brings together Wales’ finest Drug Discovery Researchers

The Life Sciences Research Network Wales is part of the Welsh Government’s £50 million Sêr Cymru programme aimed at building research capacity within Wales.

As part of this initiative, the Welsh Government established three research Networks addressing the Grand Challenges of:

  • Life sciences and health
  • Advanced engineering and materials
  • Low carbon, energy and environment

The Life Science Research Network Wales is based in Cardiff University and led by Professor Andrea Brancale. This initiative was supported by a grant of £7.3m from the Sêr Cymru programme and HEFCW and aims to discover and develop new drugs in areas of unmet medical need.

The Network brings together leading academics from Aberystwyth, Bangor Cardiff, and Swansea Universities and has supported over 131 new research projects.  The Network works closely with a number of industry partners, the NHS and other major funding bodies and has a strong focus on its links to other funders, such as the Life Sciences Bridging Fund who support a pathway to potential commercialisation of the outputs of academic research for ultimate patient benefit. In its fourth year, the Network has supported a range of activities including PhD students, individual research projects and platform technologies at universities across Wales.  These researchers are developing the next generation of drugs to tackle major societal health issues such as:

  • Cancer
  • Antimicrobial Resistance
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

The Scientific Drug Discovery Congress takes place on 29th to 30th November 2017 at the Mercure Holland House Hotel in Cardiff. Congress is an opportunity for students and leading academics from across Wales to highlight their research and discuss the challenges faced in developing the next generation of therapeutics. The event will be attended by a number of leading researchers whose work has successfully led to commercialisation, as well industry representatives with substantial experience in the journey through the drug development pathway.

This year, the Network is delighted to welcome the following key-note speakers to Congress: Professor Simon Ward, Co-Director of the newly established Medicines Discovery Institute at Cardiff University – the goal of the Institute is to translate the University’s world-leading scientific understanding of disease mechanisms into novel therapeutic approaches to address disease where there remains a significant unmet medical need; Dr Edgar Hartsuiker, Senior Lecturer in Cancer Biology and Chair of the North-West Cancer Research Institute at Bangor University, who will be addressing the exploitation of DNA repair defects for personalised cancer treatment; Hugh Young Rienhoff, Chief Executive Officer of Imago BioSciences, Clinical Scientist and entrepreneur, who will be providing an insight into an entrepreneur’s journey; Professor B. Paul Morgan, Director of the Systems Immunity Research at Cardiff University, who will address therapeutic targeting of the complement system.

Professor Brancale, the Scientific Director of the Network said: “the level of engagement with the Network, from academics has been immense so far. We have seen over 419 new drug discovery projects submitted for review – and we have supported over 131 projects. The Network is making a real difference by focusing funding on potentially high impact research and supporting the discovery of novel potential therapeutics.

Group photo and winners of the PhD poster competition from the 3rd Annual Drug Discovery Congress 2016 (C) Huw John, Cardiff