The Dose: DDW’s drug discovery highlights


DDW highlights the most interesting global news and comments within the drug discovery and development sector this month.  

Everyone enjoys a good news story and the drug discovery and development sector is no exception. Seeing tangible results of drug efficacy or therapeutics programmes can take years so it was heartening to read in the Guardian1 that the NHS in the UK believes that by 2030 there will be no new cases of HIV in England. The announcement followed the signing of deals to make new medicines available across the country.  

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s National Medical Director, told the Guardian: “We now have a genuine chance of achieving no new HIV infections, thanks to the unparalleled efforts of NHS staff and our ability to get effective drugs into the hands of the people who stand to benefit.” He said the NHS had proved it could strike deals with drugs companies that offered “world-leading care at a price that offers the best value for taxpayers”.

Meanwhile, a UAE researcher was selected as a finalist for AstraZeneca’s R&D Postdoctoral Challenge, reported the Khaleej Times2. It then revealed its decision to fund the finalists from the challenge with research positions at one of its global R&D centres. Dr Ramakrishnan, who holds a Bachelor of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering from the University of Kerala in India, presented a proposal examining microbiome-based therapeutics for asthma.  

“Lately, there has been a lot of interest in microbiome research. I am particularly interested in the airway microbiome and how it is increasingly associated with overall lung health,” she told the publication. 

In Nature3, we learnt about the CRISPR cancer trial success leading the way to personalised treatments. According to the publication, “A small clinical trial has shown that researchers can use CRISPR gene editing to alter immune cells so that they will recognise mutated proteins specific to a person’s tumours. Those cells can then be safely set loose in the body to find and destroy their target. 

“It is the first attempt to combine two hot areas in cancer research: gene editing to create personalised treatments, and engineering immune cells called T cells so as to better target tumours. The approach was tested in 16 people with solid tumours, including in the breast and colon.”

“It is probably the most complicated therapy ever attempted in the clinic,” the study co-author Antoni Ribas, a cancer researcher and physician at the University of California, Los Angeles was reported as saying. “We’re trying to make an army out of a patient’s own T cells.” 

Research news 

The Lancet Regional Health-Europe4 recently published the results of pharmacological trial which could offer hope for long COVID research4. Despite some negative findings around  the use of oral coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) capsules at a dose of 500 mg/day as a treatment, several positives were uncovered from the trial – one being “that for patients, who have been struggling for at least two years to have their disease recognised as a real illness, participating in clinical trials, whatever is their final result, is an important first step towards accessing appropriate, comprehensive and multidisciplinary care.” 

Other research updates include a study by NIH5 researchers using post-mortem brain tissues to understand genomic differences in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study was led by scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH, who successfully identified differences in gene activity in the brains of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

“The study advances our understanding of ADHD by showing how the condition is tied to changes in how certain genes are expressed in the brain. This allows us to inch closer to understanding how genomic differences alter gene expression in the brain and contribute to ADHD symptoms,” says Philip Shaw, senior investigator in the Social and Behavioral Research Branch, who supervised the study.   

Interesting findings recently came out of the UC San Francisco6, where a new approach by researchers has been analysing how well different re-engineered T cells work against cancer. The team has created a new way of comparing large numbers of CAR-T cells, which have differing molecular features, to determine which are most effective against cancer.  

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine and shows how the team used the approach – which they have called ‘CAR Pooling’– to study CAR-T cells with 40 different receptors. They say that the screen, which can be expanded to test hundreds or thousands more receptor combinations in the future, has already revealed new and surprising receptors that make these therapeutic cells more powerful. 

“CAR-T cells have been absolutely transformative for a lot of people with blood cancers,” said senior author Kole Roybal, PhD, UC San Francisco associate professor of microbiology and immunology and a member of the Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology. “This work is a stepping stone toward engineering these cells in even smarter ways so they work better, for longer, and in more cancer types.”


Nature7 provided an interesting overview of the driving forces behind the success of Beijing and Shanghai. In the article Yvaine Ye highlights that while China’s capital city boasts a higher research output, the second city is gaining ground.  

Ye quotes Denis Simon, a China technology specialist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina who says that together, the cities host dozens of elite universities and research institutes that are talent magnets.   

The links between academia and industry are highlighted in Shanghai as well as its biotechnology hub, the Zhangjiang Science City. Beijing’s industry clusters are also noted, such as the Zhongguancun Science Park, which houses a range of universities including Tsinghua University and CAS’s institutions. 

According to Ye: “Beijing and Shanghai’s rapid increase in output is driven by central and local governments’ commitment in making them innovation-driven science centres. Greatly increased funding in research and development (R&D) has encouraged collaboration with international partners, drawing much talent.” 

And finally… 

Cancer Research UK8 has produced a great read ‘Into the archives: the story of HPV and cervical cancer’, which highlights the relationship between cervical cancer and the potential of the vaccine – an example of drug discovery at its best.  



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