The (re)emergence of an Oncology drug discovery ecosystem

A view from the 2019 Bionow Oncology Conference

Medicines Discovery Catapult

Attending the recent BioNow Oncology event at Alderley Park, I was struck by the strength of an Oncology drug discovery interdisciplinary community in the North West, which hardly existed at all a few years ago.

Or, perhaps more accurately, did exist but was hidden behind the tall walls of Pharma. Many ex-AstraZeneca scientists have emerged into new organisations and are building on those legacy relationships to establish an exciting new culture of cross-organisation collaboration.

A vibrant range of talks provided exciting examples of new research collaborations. In each I saw the bringing together of the strengths of focussed organisations doing what they do best, each understanding that drug discovery is a team sport in which specialists and experts work together, where no player is a prima donna because all contribute.

Mark Wigglesworth of AstraZeneca spoke of an open innovation collaboration they have been performing with CRUK Cambridge, to harness CRUK’s innovative target idea with the industrial rigour and resources of AZ high throughput screening. In this project, Medicines Discovery Catapult has contributed innovative approaches to cellular target validation and activity measurement using our specialist technologies and capabilities which were elegantly described by Gayle Marshall. These three organisations are using their different expertise to potentially create a programme that would not readily emerge from any of them individually.

Another exciting example was found in presentations from Fiona Thistlethwaite, medical oncology consultant at Christie Hospital, and Ian Hollingsworth of Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult. They described the new Innovate Manchester Advanced Therapy Centre (i-MATCH) consortium centred in Manchester to enable the utilisation of a new generation of therapies for cancer patients. The Manchester-based consortium requires the development of an interdisciplinary ecosystem involving organisations such as CRUK, companies such as Aptus Clinical, and hospital trusts to improve access to new, complex to prepare, treatments for cancer patients.

Despite the amazing advances that are emerging in areas such as immuno-oncology, for many cancer patients there are not adequate therapies to meet their needs.

It will take a truly interconnected ecosystem of clinicians, non-profit organisations such as Catapults, Pharma, and collaboratively-minded biotechs, to solve these challenges. I hope to see the organisations present at this conference build on these encouraging signs of new collaborations, new technologies, and new treatment modalities. Re-invention of oncology drug discovery offers real hope that a new generation of therapies and medicines will better meet patient needs.

Alderley Park produced this video from the Oncology Conference featuring Medicines Discovery Catapult’s Dr Peter Simpson, Dr Juliana Maynard, and Gayle Marshall.

About the author

Photo of Dr Peter Simpson

Dr Peter Simpson is Chief Scientific Officer at Medicines Discovery Catapult.

Peter has most recently been the Director of N8 Research Partnership, the not-for-profit body that establishes multi-university research collaborations across the North of England. Peter led strategic engagement on innovation policy in the Northern Powerhouse with government ministers and departments, and with Local Enterprise partnerships, and built a strong evidence base for Northern industrial research strengths.