× Medicines Discovery Catapult

Mass Spectrometry (MS) enables simultaneous measurement of thousands of molecules (e.g. metabolites, lipids, proteins, small molecules) without the use of expensive labelling reagents, providing a detailed picture of biology and how cells and tissues respond to drug treatment.

Mass Spectrometry MDC peptide output
Mass spec analysis of MDC peptide

We believe that MS is a key technology that can impact many areas of medicines discovery. By using high-end mass detection and ionisation technology in combination with sample preparation and analytical workflows that are tailored to drug discovery, we can generate biological fingerprints and measure drug response in a broad range of pre-clinical and clinical biological samples.

To achieve our goals, we have invested in cutting edge, direct-from-sample mass spectrometry technologies that enable us to rapidly measure biological ‘signatures’ from scarce molecular samples and look for spatial changes in drug and metabolite distribution. In addition, to provide the highest possible resolution, we have established the more traditional MS methods that use liquid chromatography to reduce the complexity of biological samples for analysis.

A photo of DESI-MS

To facilitate our work, we are establishing strategic partnerships with UK MS providers and centres of excellence so that SMEs can access the latest cutting-edge technologies and processes.

By applying MS in combination with other technologies, we are working with SMEs and other collaborators to address key questions relating to medicines discovery:

  • Characterisation of advanced cell models
  • Biomarker identification
  • Target engagement & validation
  • Drug distribution & Tissue penetration


  • Direct MS workflows, including application of acoustic dispensing
  • MS imaging
  • High-throughput MS methods
  • Isotope tracing experiments
  • Custom assay development
  • Technology development & testing

Our technology

Mass analysers

  • Waters Xevo G2-XS quadrupole time-of-flight
  • Waters TQ-XS triple-quadrupole
  • Waters Synapt G2-Si quadrupole ion mobility time-of-flight
Photo of Waters SYNAPT G2-Si Quadrupole ion mobility time-of-flight MS
Waters SYNAPT G2-Si Quadrupole ion mobility time-of-flight MS
Photo of Xevo TQ XS ESIsource ESIprobe
Waters Xevo TQ-XS Triple-quadrupole MS
Photo of Waters Xevo G2-XS quadrupole time-of-flight
Waters Xevo G2-XS Quadrupole time-of-flight MS

ESI (ElectroSpray Ionisation)

ESI is the most widely used ionisation technique applicable to a variety of analytes from simple small molecules to complex macromolecules. We have standard and nanoESI sources for direct infusion MS experiments and for use with UPLC and nanoHPLC front-ends.

We analyse:

  • Drugs and drug candidates
  • Metabolites, lipids and other small molecules
  • Nucleic acids
  • Proteins and peptides

DESI (Desorption ElectroSpray Ionisation)

DESI is a gentle and versatile ambient ionisation technique for surface analysis. We can apply it to:

  • Tissue imaging and profiling
  • Biological and non-biological materials deposited onto a non-conductive flat surface (e.g. cells, blood spots, extracted solutions)

REIMS (Rapid Evaporative Ionisation Mass Spectrometry)

REIMS is a destructive but powerful method for the analysis of phospholipids directly from cell and tissue samples and is the basis for the innovative iKnife technology for real-time characterisation of human tissue during electrosurgery. We are developing further applications of this technology to support biochemical, cell-based and in vivo workflows relevant to drug and biomarker R&D.

AMI-MS (Acoustic Mist Ionisation Mass Spectrometry)

AMI-MS is a novel automated high-throughput platform based on contactless ionisation and droplet formation capable of analysing 100,000 individual samples per day. We have unique access to this prototype technology at AstraZeneca. The analyte coverage is similar to ESI, which makes the platform widely applicable for:

  • High information content assays in cultured cell systems
  • Kinetic monitoring of chemical and biochemical reactions
  • Fingerprinting of metabolites and lipids in blood or other biological samples
  • Target validation and pathway analysis