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Partnership aids new drugs quest

A new approach to understanding disease could help develop more effective medicines.

The Universities of Dundee, Oxford and Edinburgh begin a collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V.

Together they have established the Phenotypic Discovery Initiative (PDi). Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V. is the first industry partner to join.

Drug discovery

The Initiative will adopt a new approach to drug discovery that focuses on the physical characteristics in cells or tissue that change in response to the environment or as a result of disease. These characteristics are known as phenotypes.

Examples of phenotypes could include the multiplication of cancerous cells in a developing tumour, or failure of a nerve cell to connect to muscle tissue.

Screening

Researchers will test potential therapeutic compounds for their effects on phenotypes - a process termed phenotypic screening.

Identifying new targets for drug development is an ongoing challenge for researchers.

Compounds identified by existing methods do not always succeed at the final stage of testing, which takes place in humans.

The focus of the PDi consortium will be the development of novel phenotypic assays amenable to high throughput screening, with the goal of identifying new pathways and mechanisms for drug discovery, by employing systems with higher potential for translation into the clinic.

Profesor Neil CarragherPrincipal Investigator of Drug Discovery, University of Edinburgh, and Chief Scientific Officer, Phenotypic Discovery Initiative

Improving outcomes

Phenotypic screening includes both healthy and diseased cells as well as tissue samples. The process should make it possible to discover drugs that work on the body in new ways.

The expectation is that compounds discovered in this way are more likely than others to work in people.

We are excited to be working with three of the most scientifically outstanding and prestigious UK academic centres. We expect this initiative not only to add depth and state of the art capability to our phenotypic screening activities but also to allow access to the best of ideas and talent in the application of this promising technology.

Dashyant DhanakGlobal Head of Discovery Sciences, Janssen R&D

National hubs

The three Universities will form the National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC) hubs. Work at the Edinburgh hub will be carried out at the Edinburgh Phenotypic Assay Centre (EPAC).

EPAC is a joint initiative between Edinburgh Medical School and the School of Biological Sciences, led by Professors Neil Carragher, Margaret Frame and David Gray.

The phenotypic screens we will use are more relevant to patients and their disorders and as such the goals of the PDi are to advance drug discovery towards improved clinical outcomes through joint academic-industry collaboration.

Profesor Neil CarragherPrincipal Investigator of Drug Discovery, University of Edinburgh, and Chief Scientific Officer, Phenotypic Discovery Initiative