Comment: Innovations for tomorrow’s drug discovery 

At the end of last month, DDW’s Megan Thomas attended ELRIG’s Research & Innovation 2022: Innovations for Tomorrow’s Drug Discovery, at The King’s Centre in Oxford, UK. The four sessions addressed aspects of innovation across drug discovery and placed an emphasis on both the digital age and novel modalities: Omics technology innovations; The future of therapeutic genome engineering; Drug discovery in the digital age; and RNA therapeutics & RNA targets at the forefront. 

According to James Hadfield, Senior Director (Epigenomics) Oncology Translational Medicine at AstraZeneca as well as the first speaker I watched present at this ELRIG event, 2022 is the best year for genomics since 1977 when Frederick Sanger and his team introduced the dideoxy chain-termination method for sequencing DNA molecules, also known as the “Sanger method”. A bold statement, but one justified throughout the course of the conference.  

With so much going on in the genomics field, I imagine it is difficult to put together a presentation on the “hottest” trends in genomics, but Hadfield distilled his views impressively. He says we are around the corner from a $100 human genome, and justified his optimism by mentioning the increased existence of competition – Illumina has had a monopoly until now – mentioning companies like BGI, Sing Gen, Element Bioscience and A.N. Other. Importantly, he didn’t just ask the question of why this is so important, but asked: What do we do with it?  

This conference at large made strides in answering that question. This included Genomics plc’s Director of Therapeutics Dan Gaffney’s presentation on identifying causal biology for therapeutic intervention using genetics and genomics, as well as GlaxoSmithKline’s Dr Fiona Behan’s presentation, “The Evolving Role of Functional Genomics in Oncology Drug Discovery”. It was further supported in the presentation, “New molecular technologies for genome editing and cell control”, presented by Dr Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg.  

Horizon Discovery, a PerkinElmer company, presented its Pin-point editing platform which is said to be driving new cell therapies towards reality. The platform was introduced to the audience by Senior Scientist Dr Immacolata Porreca, who explained Horizon’s modular Pin-point base editing system and the way it uses a nickase Cas9 with an aptameric guide RNA (gRNA) to recruit a deaminase to a DNA locus of interest, facilitating highly efficient and precise nucleotide conversion. In reality, as I’ve mentioned, the whole conference painted a picture of why 2022 holds such potential for the genomics field, so at risk of listing the whole programme, believe me when I say that there is a lot to be excited about. 

Commenting on the impact of events such as those put on by ELRIG, Dr Frank Craig, CEO of Sphere Fluidics: “Such events are very useful to companies like ours as we can advertise our products, see what other companies are doing and learn from the seminars on leading-edge science. It is also great to meet friends and new members of the Life Sciences community.” 

As always, observing the posters and listening to scientists talk about the research they represent was a highlight and a reminder of the ongoing commitment of our scientists and researchers. Between Catherine Wark from BMG LabTech’s “Transfection efficiency determined with fluorescence-based bottom reading for GFP and mCherry” to Dr Frank Staubli from Nebion’s “Curation and integration of single-cell RNA-Seq data for cross-study analysis and interpretation”, our scientific future is in good hands.  

Research & Innovation 2023:

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