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An article from our series:

Which team do you work in and what does that team do?

I work in the Biomarkers team, within Discovery at MDC. We utilise multiple different technologies that we apply to the broad remit of projects. Typically, the project work depends on the customers and collaborators we are working with.

There are a number of different ways we can support each project – depending on what the collaborator needs, and what their research questions are.

Taking a translational approach, we aim to support the understanding of disease pathways; and how medicines modulate those pathways. This may involve understanding what biomarkers define which patients to treat, or not treat; how a patient responds to a drug treatment; or how to translate preclinical drug efficacy towards a clinical plan. We can also support evaluation of drug efficacy; which could be understanding target engagement or more broadly measuring a clinical response.

Our central aim is to support our collaborators in the progression of their novel medicines through drug development into the clinic; armed with a better understanding of the clinical response, with a view to promote clinical success

How does your role support other functions within the organisation?

Understanding biomarkers in the context of medicines discovery helps provide a roadmap for translational research. By collecting and correlating biomarker data across all aspects of drug discovery; from early exploratory in vitro analysis, through complex cell models of disease, preclinical animal studies, to the patient – or back-translating patient data to our preclinical analysis; this allows us to work towards the goal of advancing medicines discovery. Integrating a biomarker strategy through these different aspects of drug discovery connects the functions within MDC, to make that goal a reality.

In three words, what would best describe your team?

Translation, translation, translation!

What attracted you to the drug discovery industry and Medicines Discovery Catapult?

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the human body and disease. I also, like a lot of scientists, wanted to help make a difference to people suffering from disease.

In biology, we know so little about disease and different patient responses–why some patients get better when we think they won’t, why other patients who we think should get better, don’t. And when you add a drug into the mix, why do people respond differently to that drug?

Drug discovery is hard. But we, as a community, are continually learning and understanding more. I believe the way to ensure we can get more drugs to the clinic, and treat patients in need, is to work together in a collaborative way to meet the challenges we face.

MDC has a key role to play here. We are bringing those pieces together and I was excited to be part of that.

Tell us about any work you’ve done that you’re most proud of.

I am most proud of being part of the setup and the initial running of the UK Lighthouse Labs Network.

This was, and still is, a massive team effort with a lot of pressure in unprecedented times; many people across different disciplines pulled together to respond to the pandemic. What we achieved in such a short time continues to have a clear impact to the wider community. It really was a privilege to work with such a great team.

My role at the Lighthouse Labs was very different to my every day at MDC – it wasn’t centrally a science role. I was part of the logistics and operational team, and though I did some hands-on testing in the early days, I was more focussed on people management, logistics and quality – effectively, setting up a clinical lab, in a short space of time.

The timeline in the testing facility was completely different to my usual exploratory work  – you get a sample in that day; you give a patient their result the next day that will impact them straight away. Whereas in drug discovery, we do work that we hope will benefit patients in the future, but we don’t necessarily see that future.

Tell us something you like doing outside of work.

I have lots of different hobbies, but probably the unusual one is silversmithing – I make jewellery from silver–a skill my grandfather taught me.

I love cooking, baking, the great outdoors, running and fitness–before the pandemic, I was due to run the London Marathon – this is now rescheduled to October 2021, so my training goes on!

Learn more about our Biomarkers team – meet Gayle Marshall – Lead Scientist to find out about her journey from Biomarkers to the Lighthouse Lab.

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