News

Companies looking for Collaborators

Copner Biotech, a biotechnology company based in Ebbw Vale, have partnered up with Jellagen Ltd to explore 3D polymer scaffolds capable of reliably forming organoid structures. An organoid is a 3D multicellular in vitro tissue construct that mimics its corresponding in vivo organ, such that it can be used to study aspects of that organ in the tissue culture dish.  The more accurately organoids represent real organ tissues, the more accurate researchers’ data becomes, leading to improved cancer research, for example.

This off-the-shelve product concept, resulting from the complimentary coupling of Copner Biotech’s proprietary scaffold fabrication technology and Jellagen’s Collagen Type 0 chemistry platform technologies, will offer scientists a user-friendly solution to organoid formation with batch-to-batch consistency. Current methods to form organoids have the potential to introduce human error, as well as leading to variable organoid structures. Controlling this variability will ultimately improve experimental procedure by removing unnecessary variables.

Jellagen’s Collagen Type 0 is sustainably derived from jellyfish and is used in cell culture and tissue engineering. To date, the collagen Type 0 matrix has been successfully applied to develop pancreatic and ovarian cancer spheroid models. The advantages of the Collagen Type 0 matrix over other extracellular matrix (ECM) products are that it demonstrates minimal interference with tumour signalling, due to a reduced presence of biologically active motifs in polymer or any mammalian growth factors. This allows the researcher to focus on cell-to-cell interactions, while the matrix interference is minimal.

The companies are now actively looking for collaborators to validate the novel scaffold in a laboratory setting, and if you would like to know more then please contact Jordan Copner (CEO, Copner Biotech) using the following email address: jordan@copnerbiotech.com

Image of a spheroid model of Breast infiltrating ductal and lobular carcinoma model cultured using Collagen Type 0 ECM.
Reference:  Cellaria Inc. 3D Model of Immune Niche of the Tumor (MINT™)

The Professor Chris McGuigan 2021 Awards Symposium 

On Friday 22nd April 2022 the School of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences hosted an event to celebrate Professor Chris McGuigan’s legacy of excellence and innovation in drug discovery science at Cardiff University. This event takes place every other year and is possible because of the generous donation from Dr Geoffrey Henson to establish a memorial fund for Professor Chris McGuigan who was his friend and colleague. It is dedicated to awarding people who follow his legacy in the field of drug discovery in three categories: 

  • McGuigan Outstanding PhD Thesis Prize 
  • McGuigan U35 Drug Discovery Star Prize 
  • McGuigan Prize for Distinguished Work in Drug Discovery  

Professor McGuigan worked for many years at Cardiff University and was a specialist drug designer and developer and was one of the UK’s leading scientists in the field of drug discovery. Professor McGuigan was Chair of the Life Sciences Hub and directed the Life Sciences Research Network Wales. Professor McGuigan sadly passed away in 2016 and this fund was created to recognize and award individuals who are rising stars or leaders in the field.  

Professor McGuigan was chair of the Life Sciences Hub at Cardiff University and the Director of Life Sciences Research Network Wales.  His research expertise was in new drug discovery and development in treatment of cancer, HIV, hepatitis B and C, shingles, measles, influenza and CNS disease. He invented 4 experimental drugs, which made it through to clinical trials – a huge achievement in itself, published over 200 scientific papers and submitted over 100 patent applications. He collaborated with scientists in Europe and the USA. 

The event was delivered in the format of a prize ceremony with oral presentations from the awardees. Professor Mark Gumbleton – Head of School of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Professor Andrea Brancale – Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Director of LSRNW introduced the three awardees who in turn presented their work in the form of a three – part symposium. 

The first presenting winner was Wioleta Zelek (Cardiff University) who was awarded with the McGuigan Outstanding PhD Thesis Prize which recognises the best thesis in drug discovery related research by a Cardiff University doctoral graduate.  

The next presenter was Michael Menden (Helmholtz Zentrum Müncheni) who received the McGuigan U35 Drug Discovery Star Prize which recognises an early career researcher who has made a significant, original and internationally recognised impact in drug discovery sciences. 

After a coffee break, the last presentation was delivered by Johan Neyts (KU Leuven) who was awarded the McGuigan Prize for Distinguished Work in Drug Discovery for a senior researcher (academic or industrial) who has a distinguished international reputation and a proven track record of leadership. 

The symposium celebrated awardees from 2021, delayed by the pandemic and we are looking forward to the 2023 awards nominations for which will be opening soon. 


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