08 May

Stem Cell Solutions and the UK-NPSC

I am pleased to be able to reveal that the major project Stem Cell Solutions Ltd has been heavily involved in since May 2013 has been the creation of the UK National Phenotypic Screening Centre (UK-NPSC). This project was given a major boost with a recently announced £8M infrastructure award from the Scottish Government.

The UK National Phenotypic Screening Centre will focus on directly screening chemical agents against human cells and tissues to identify compounds that combat a disease. Phenotypic screening is thought to be a powerful method for drug discovery because it offers the opportunity to go beyond the focus on single drug targets, traditionally the most widely adopted approach for drug discovery.

The currently favoured model for drug discovery, focussing on a single target, has been plagued by low success rates in pre-clinical development, as well as expensive late-stage failure of many  drugs in phase 2 and 3 clinical trials. The key aim of UK-NPSC will be to capitalise on recent advances in more physiologically-relevant  human cell and organ culture systems, genome engineering, human stem cells (hESC & hiPSC), high-content screening with multiparametric phenotypic analysis to provide a non-biased, disease and patient-contextualised approach to drug discovery.

The project has been spearheaded by the Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance (SULSA) SULSA-logowho recently selected the University of Dundee’s College of Life Sciences to host the main screening centre with a second unit embedded in the University of Oxford’s Target Discovery Institute.

“The Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA) has determined that the University of Dundee will host the centre and it will work with some of Europe’s top pharmaceutical companies to form a large public-private partnership in the field of novel therapy research and development, adding further strength to Scotland’s position in the field.”  Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education.

“Professor Andrew Hopkins, Director of SULSA and a member of the College’s Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, deserves enormous credit for securing this funding that will transform the landscape of drug discovery capabilities in the UK.”  Professor Mike Ferguson CBE, FRS, FRSE, FMedSci,  Dean of Research at the College of Life Sciences.

This continues to be an really exciting project to be involved in, having been on board since the very early stages performing the ground work which kick-started the project. This has included all the early scoping exercises (including visits to world-class centres of excellence) and all the technical evaluations.  As part of the core writing team (the Director of SULSA, Professor Andrew Hopkins and Executive Director of SULSA, Dr. Den Barrault, a second independent consultant Dr. Wilma Keighley and with additional input from Dr. Neil Carragher a phenotypic screening group leader in Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre)  we generated a white-paper, then a fully developed, costed, proposal. This led to the infrastructure award to allow the purchasing of state-of-the art screening equipment and a significant investment in high performance computing. Phase II to develop the UK network and sign up consortium members. Currently I am managing the establishment of the facility,  which we hope to have fully operational by the end of 2014.

The announcement has been covered on various news outlets including the BBC, STV and local Press. SULSA’s press release can be view here.

Watch this space for more developments.