Here, we speak with two of the keynote speakers at this year’s Drug Discovery 2022, Molly Stevens, Professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London, and Rab Prinjha, VP Head of Immunology Research Unit at GlaxoSmithKline, about the insights they will be sharing and what they see as the drivers of the drug discovery revolution.
It’s an incredibly exciting time in the life sciences – with a focus on collaboration across disciplines the sky is the limit and the opportunities to create diagnostic tools and therapeutics that could benefit society as a whole are innumerable. But what do our esteemed colleagues make of the revolution?
Q: What do you see as being the driver for the renaissance in the life sciences?
RP: In many ways, the pandemic has catalysed the renaissance by reminding scientists of our potential impact and purpose. This is clearly true in the study of viruses and vaccines, but also in immunology and physiology of medicines more broadly.
MS: For me, it is technological advancements that are allowing us to approach research in ways that weren’t possible before. We are seeing game-changing developments in connected and personalised medicine that harness the power of artificial intelligence for drug design, multidimensional health data analysis and disease prediction, which will enable us to make the healthcare of the future a reality. I hope to see a combined, collaborative effort to ensure that this renaissance truly benefits society across the geographical and economic divide.
Q: Molly and Rab, as our keynote speakers, what insights can attendees expect to gain through attending your presentations, and how does it speak to the life science revolution?
MS: My presentation, which takes place on 4 October, focuses on how our in-house technology – SPARTA – is enabling us to analyse single nanoparticles in a high-throughput, non-destructive, label-free manner. SPARTA decodes the physicochemical composition of individual particles in real-time allowing us to monitor and quality control nanoparticle synthesis processes in ways impossible to achieve using traditional bulk characterisation methods. By using this tool, we are developing a portfolio of nanomedicines designed to interact with the biological environment to deliver a targeted biocargo.
What I find most exciting is how versatile our nanomaterials portfolio and SPARTA platforms are. In fact, the great value of the versatility was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic when we redesigned our ultrasensitive biosensing lateral-flow tests, previously validated for Ebola and HIV, and developed new virustatic nanomimics proven to block viral entry. I hope our work will inspire a translational framework for future innovation in nanomedicine and help further fuel the revolution!
RP: My presentation is on the second day of the event – 5 October. I will be speaking about how we are systematically applying genomic sciences at scale across our portfolio to help overcome one of the greatest challenges we see in immunology and drug discovery – identifying the best target for medicines. The growth in the scale of the data, technology and ambition in this area is inspiring, and I hope to be able to inspire other scientists too. With target identification a stumbling block for many therapeutic areas, I hope that some visibility of the enhancements in speed and quality together with a vision for how this can be meaningfully integrated will encourage researchers to join us or others now starting to embark on this journey.
Q: What is one piece of practical advice you would give to an early career professional?
RP: That’s a tricky question to answer! I don’t think I can just stick to one. I’d say to listen well, learn fast, make good friends in science, and trust your instincts! To help make good friends in science make the most of opportunities when they present themselves, be passionate about your work and curious of that of others. Being able to connect with peers and build a network is truly invaluable so I’d urge you to attend in-person events, like Drug Discovery 2022 when you can.
MS: In a scientific career it is fundamental to find a topic that you feel passionate about – it then becomes almost a natural response to commit all your effort and enjoy the process. Remember that setbacks will happen but take them as an opportunity to learn! It is also important to have the support of good mentors and to build a collegiate team that share core values. I am extremely thankful for the amazingly talented and generous people that have supported me and worked alongside me throughout my career.
Q: What is most exciting to you about this year’s Drug Discovery event?
MS: I think the symbiosis of academic research and industry-driven innovation is an incredibly exciting aspect of the event. We will have the opportunity to learn from different perspectives and feed new ideas into our own creative workflow. In my research group, we take a very interdisciplinary and intersectoral approach to science and benefit massively from the connections and knowledge transfer we gain from attending events like Drug Discovery.
RP: The value of face-to- face events shouldn’t be underestimated. After the pandemic, it is still particularly exciting to see live talks and have great conversations with other speakers and attendees. By attending in-person events, you can interact and engage with people from across the industry in a way that isn’t possible via virtual means.
Volume 23 – Issue 4, Fall 2022, ELRIG UK Supplement
About the authors
Professor Molly M Stevens FREng FRS is Professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine and the Research Director for Biomedical Material Sciences in the Department of Materials, in the Department of Bioengineering and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London.
Rab Prinjha leads the GSK Immunology Research Unit. He cofounded the GSK Biology Council and is an elected fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Senior Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and cochair of the GSK Fellows Council. He represented GSK on the EU- EFPIA Board through which he chaired the Immunology SGG and earlier led the GSK collaboration with the Harvard Medical School Immune Diseases Institute.