The trends driving ELRIG Drug Discovery 2022

DDW Editor Reece Armstrong explores some of the trends that will be featured in sessions throughout ELRIG Drug Discovery 2022 and the news behind them.

Taking place at the ExCel in London from 4-5 October, ELRIG Drug Discovery 2022 is set to provide visitors with access to the latest trends, technologies and expertise driving the life sciences sector. 

This year’s event will cover some of the most exciting advancements in areas spanning screening, automation, high content imaging, disease models, cell and gene therapies and how innovation is being driven through partnerships and collaborations. That’s not to mention the great range of content that will be featured in sessions led by the likes of AstraZeneca, The Francis Crick Institute, GSK, and many other leading organisations and institutions. 

Cell and gene therapies

There’s no question that cell and gene therapies have emerged as some of the most promising and innovative medicines on the market. 

In 2021, levels of investment hit an all-time high at $22.7 billion, compared to $19.9 billion in 2020, according to the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine’s (ARM’s): Disrupting the Status Quo report. The pandemic might have affected the number of clinical trials taking place for cell and gene therapies, with activity decreasing by around 15% compared to 2020, but major therapies such as Novartis’ gene therapy drug for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma still made it to market. 

As it stands, there are currently 19 gene therapies approved for clinical use, alongside 18 RNA therapies and 59 non-genetically modified cell therapies, according to the Q2 report by the American Society of Cell & Gene Therapy. With 3,633 advanced therapeutical medicinal products (ATMPs) currently in some form of clinical or pre- clinical development, the sector shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, the first two quarters have shown strong performance compared to 2021, with the number of ATMP trials in Phase I increasing 4%. 

Recent announcements in the sector make it clear that activity surrounding ATMPs is not slowing down. For instance, in August this year, Bayer announced it had been given the go-ahead by the National Agency for Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) in France to begin a Phase I/II clinical trial targeting Huntington’s Disease. 

The trial will see Bayer using its subsidiary BrainVectis to investigate its gene therapy, BV-101 in the treatment for Huntington’s Disease (HD). BV-101 is an adeno- associated virus (AAV) gene therapy vector that simultaneously addresses the metabolic dysfunction of diseased neurons and contributes to the clearance of the mutant huntingtin protein. It’s administered through MRI-guided neurosurgical techniques that target tissues in the basal structures of the brain. 

In the UK, effort has been made to scale-up the country’s cell and gene therapy manufacturing capabilities. The Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult alongside ATMP developer Achilles Therapeutics has launched a consortium to develop a smart bioprocessing manufacturing platform for personalised cell therapies. Recently, the project was awarded £3.5 million by Horizon Europe which will go towards its goal of developing bioprocessing technologies. 

As one of the exciting fields in the pharmaceutical industry, it’s no surprise that Drug Discovery 2022 will feature sessions on developments in CAR-T and the technologies helping researchers in this field. 

Automation

Automated systems have become a prominent feature throughout drug discovery, helping scientists save time and assisting in reproducible experiments for more verifiable results. The global lab automation market for drug discovery is expected to grow by a CAGR of 5% between 2021 – 2026, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence. 

In the drug discovery sector, automated systems have become common use in areas such as high throughput screening, liquid handling, and are now routinely used across discovery and development workflows. Within a lab environment, automation is being used to assist researchers with repetitive tasks and reduce some of burden placed on them. 

For anyone attending this event looking to gain insight into how to implement automated systems in the lab, this year’s show will help answer these questions. A range of sessions focused on automation and technology will explore the stages of implementation, including first steps to using the technology and why the initial step into using automation can be a major change for any lab. Other sessions will explore the benefits of automation and give insight into how it can help researchers and labs gain value. 

Screening

Screening acts as the bedrock of many drug discovery activities. Once a target is identified and validated, researchers will look to screen that target against compounds that could potentially be further developed into a marketable therapy. 

As a crucial stage in drug discovery, it’s no surprise that activity in screening, whether it be technology or services, is constant. This year, genome engineering company Synthego launched a portfolio of Engineered Cell Librariesnto help improve access to CRISPR-edited cells for direct use in functional screening assays. The company’s Engineered Cell Libraries are designed to provide speed, scalability, and efficiency to accelerate the drug discovery process by enabling a faster path between experimental design and execution. 

Other news saw Innovate UK invest almost £500,000 in biopharmaceutical company Orbit Discovery to help expand its microfluidics screening capabilities. The £472,000 Smart grant will facilitate the implementation of droplet-based microfluidics for cell-based functional screening and expand the capabilities and throughput of Orbit’s peptide display platform. 

Orbit is currently working on ways to advance the discovery of peptide therapeutic candidates, including the most challenging drug targets, by improving overall process efficiency whilst reducing
the risk and associated costs. Orbit hopes the funds will further validate the microfluidic components of its peptide discovery platform, resulting in a next-generation microfluidic-based functional screen capable of interrogating millions of peptides in cell-based assays. 

The high-throughput screening platform Orbit is developing is focused on multi-membrane spanning proteins, such as G-protein-coupled receptors. The platform will rapidly identify molecules which generate a therapeutically relevant functional response earlier in the drug discovery process. This will avoid polluting screening outputs with non-functional binders often observed with other platforms. 

At ELRIG Drug Discovery 2022, visitors will be able to find out all about the latest advancements in screening and how it sits alongside automation as a tool to make research faster and less time-consuming. 

Collaborations

One of the main sessions at this year’s event will look back on how the collaboration between Oxford University and AstraZeneca was crucial to the development and manufacture of their Covid-19 vaccine. As a project, it demonstrated the importance of collaboration between industry and academia to solve the remarkable challenge of developing a vaccine in record time. 

Collaborations have and will always be an important part of this industry. This year has seen some major deals announced by big pharma companies. In May, Pfizer announced it would be acquiring the biopharmaceutical company Biohaven, which has a pipeline of therapies targeting migraines, for the sum of $11 billion. Then, in June, GSK announced it would be acquiring biopharmaceutical company Affinivax in a deal potentially worth over $3 billion. This follows the company’s previous announcement that it would acquire Sierra Oncology in a deal worth $1.9 billion. 

On a smaller scale, recently we’ve seen investment company Origin Therapeutics add the Canadian biotech Clairvoyant to its portfolio. Clairvoyant is developing a psychedelic drug therapy focused on addiction and is targeting the clinical validation of psilocybin in the EU, the UK, and Canada. The company is currently proceeding with a Phase II clinical trial in Canada for the clinical validation of psilocybin for the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

The psychedelics medicine market is rising in value, with Data Bridge Market Research predicting it will reach $8 billion by 2029. As such, expect to see a lot more interest in this sector over the coming years. 

Sustainability in drug discovery

In recent years sustainability has become more of a focus for the pharmaceutical industry. With global warming becoming a very real and growing threat, large industries such as pharma are under mounting pressure to demonstrate their environmental strategies. 

A focus at ELRIG Drug Discovery 2022 this year will be on how sustainable chemistry and new synthetic approaches are helping push the boundaries of drug discovery. 

This year GSK placed a focus on sustainability at its annual Palio meeting, highlighting how preventative approaches to disease can help mitigate climate change. The event included a range of high-profile speakers such as Anthony Fauci and explored how vaccines can mitigate the effects of environmental change and help meet sustainability goals. 

More recently, science and technology company Merck KGaA opened a new Launch and Technology Center for healthcare in Darmstadt. The centre is part of a planned investment of more than €1.5 billion and aims to be model of sustainability for the company, and will feature solar panels, geothermal energy, heat recovery systems and roof greening, among other sustainability features. 

In the UK, Innovate UK has invested £7.3 million in a project that intends to set up the country’s green chemistry industry. The funding will support the BONDIFI project which will combine low carbon manufacturing processes with a sustainable technology base to embed bioresin technology within manufacturing facilities across the UK. 

Some of the questions Drug Discovery 2022 will be looking to answer this year are what types of technology can help researchers become sustainable at a bench level? It will address why sustainability in R&D is critical for success, and the comparisons between sustainability, productivity and innovation as well as the benefits created. 

Preclinical models

Preclinical models are a crucial stage of drug discovery and development and act as one of the major barriers to a successful, marketable therapy. For years now, researchers have used animal models to try and predict a molecule’s efficacy but the translation between animal and human biology is never straightforward.  

Preclinical models will be a major focus at this year’s event with sessions ranging from the use of biomarkers, in vitro gut models, organoids for oncology research, new technologies driving sustainable pre-clinical models, and much more. 

With the emergence of technologies such as organoids, organ-on-a-chip systems, and digital twins, more options are now presenting themselves as potential models that researchers can use to test therapies on, other than animal models. 

Of course, animal models still exist and are used within research on a constant basis. Recently, the University of California, Davis received over $12 million from the National Institutes of Health for the third and final five-year phase of itsKnockout Mouse Phenotyping Project (KOMP2). ‘Knockout’ mice are bred in a laboratory with specific genes silenced or ‘knocked out’. They have been valuable tools for research on a range of diseases and conditions, used in 4,676 published papers so far. The goal of this final phase is to produce and phenotype hundreds of knockout mouse models for genes with little to no known function, to better understand the genetic bases for diseases in humans and animals. 

In the UK, six universities received £4.25 million as part of a collaborative project aimed at finding new treatments for motor neurone disease (MND). The MND Collaborative Partnership looks to find solutions to address problems currently hindering MND research. Part of the project will see the partnership look at developing more robust lab tests and models of disease to enable scientists to test theories about the disease and a pipeline of potential therapeutic agents that could ultimately be used as MND treatments. 

With some of the best minds in life sciences attending ELRIG UK’s Drug Discovery 2022, visitors will be sure to find out about the latest developments in preclinical models and just where the innovation is happening within the sector. 

Volume 23 – Issue 4, Fall 2022, ELRIG UK Supplement

 

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