In March 2020, the UK government issued a nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) laboratories were closed, and many drug discovery projects paused. MDC has continued to provide expertise and leadership to the UK’s drug discovery community whilst also playing a pivotal role in the UK’s fight against coronavirus.
MDC’s continued expertise, leadership, and role in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, includes:
- Leading co-ordination of the UK Lighthouse Labs Network
- COVID-19 collaborations
- Assessing grant submissions on behalf of Innovate UK
- MDC Connects webinar series
- Collating industry specific COVID-19 guidance and opportunities
MDC were tasked with the challenge of co-ordinating the creation of the UK Lighthouse Labs Network and delivery of one of those labs, based at Alderley Park in Cheshire.
Professor Chris Molloy, Medicines Discovery Catapult CEO, was appointed Director of the UK Lighthouse Labs Network and Professor Peter Simpson, Medicines Discovery Catapult CSO, was appointed Site Director of the Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab.
The Lighthouse Labs are the biggest diagnostic lab network ever established in British history, created at an unprecedented pace with each site taking just three weeks to begin clinical testing.
The life sciences sector across the North of England is working hard to combat COVID-19 with new tests, treatments and vaccines already under development. The regional COVID-19 testing centre at Alderley Park coordinated by the Medicines Discovery Catapult represents an essential step forward in scaling up the UK’s coordinated national ability to track and combat this disease. Bionow members have come forward in their droves to support this initiative and will be central partners in delivering it successfully.
Dr John Stageman OBE, Chairman of Bionow & LifeArc
In April, MDC, Retrogenix and Peak Proteins announced a collaboration to advance understanding of the cellular mechanisms of infection by COVID-19.
By screening against our unique library of human cell surface proteins, Retrogenix has previously been highly successful in identifying viral receptors. Using the same technology, we now have the perfect opportunity to search for new receptors for COVID-19.
A positive find could have significant consequences in the search for treatments.
Jo Soden, Co-founder and Director at Retrogenix
This collaboration aims to combine excellence in drug discovery and protein science with innovative cellular microarray technology to uncover any unknown cellular receptors or binding proteins of COVID-19. Identification of such receptors could provide the basis for new therapeutic approaches to counter the current global coronavirus pandemic and may guide drug repurposing efforts.
Our focus has been on keeping our labs open, while ensuring the safety of the staff, and this seems all the more worthwhile when we are able to contribute to understanding how COVID-19 infects cells, and in the development of new approaches to target the virus.
Mark Abbott, CEO Peak Proteins
In addition, MDC reached out to partners and submitted early grants for the UKRI “nCoV Rapid Response Call”. Many of these partners are now further developing their own COVID response work.
Assessing grant submissions on behalf of Innovate UK
The aim of this competition was to fast-track innovation. Applications needed to show realistic and significant benefits for society, or an industry severely affected and/or permanently disrupted by the pandemic.
Because of the overwhelming number of submissions, Innovate UK needed to request additional support from the Catapults to complete the initial assessment.
In total, 12 MDC employees could provide expertise in response to the call, reviewing 212 submissions in only two days. Equating to £25,000 of in-kind support.
Weekly drug discovery webinar series covering the drug discovery process, from the experts at MDC and CRO network partners.
The series helped the community to keep talking throughout the COVID lockdown when other meetings and conferences were cancelled. MDC also reached out to students whose normal university studies in labs were compromised.
The CRO network partners were hugely supportive in providing expert speakers and bite-size seminars to inform and educate.
The series was fantastically well received with companies using the webinars as training material for their staff, complementing student studies and enabling experienced scientists from industry and academia to keep up to date.
Each webinar attracts an average of 255 attendees.
Collating industry specific COVID-19 guidance and opportunities
COVID-19 specific section created on the MDC website, providing industry specific guidance, information and highlighting important work, resources, and opportunities for the drug discovery community.
During lockdown, the COVID-19 section was the most popular page on the MDC website.
- Lighthouse Labs network rapidly and dramatically increased the number of coronavirus tests that could be analysed each day
- Advanced understanding of COVID-19 and proactive support for development of new treatments and innovation
- UK drug discovery community virtually connected and proactively supplied with industry specific guidance