Keynote highlights of ELRIG Drug Discovery 2018

Two behemoths of UK life science gave inspirational keynotes on both days of ELRIG Drug Discovery 2018. Both talks shared a theme of making ageing more bearable to enable people to get older, but remain healthy. And ambitiously, to simultaneously maintain quality of life whilst reducing the burden of ageing on increasingly stretched healthcare providers.

On day one, Prof. Dame Janet Thornton gave a talk entitled ‘Drug Repurposing for Ageing Research’. I knew of Prof. Thornton┬ápredominantly through her work as a world-leading expert in the area of structural biology – investigating the structure, function and complexity of proteins using three-dimensional structures. Prof. Thornton and her group have elucidated many structures and developed many software tools over the years. So, hearing about her work using available drugs to combat some of the damaging effects of ageing was very much a treat.

She described some of what is known about ageing:

  • In many model organisms it has been shown that mutations can increase lifespan, and many of the effects of these mutations are additive – in humans ‘ageing is malleable’ too
  • Ageing is the biggest risk factor in many diseases – cancer, dementia, cardiovascular, etc – and many elderly patients have multi-morbidities, i.e. ageing is actually multiple diseases
  • Nutrient sensing networks play an evolutionary role in ageing – dietary restriction can have a beneficial effect for healthier ageing.

Then she outlined her group’s strategy for identifying drugs that might have beneficial effects in combating the many diseases caused by ageing:

  1. Using known ageing genes as targets – integrating many dataset GWAS, expression, post-translational modification, drug target, protein-protein interaction, network/pathway data – to identify genes involved in ageing to which drugs may act.
  2. Using favourable gene expression changes signatures in ageing to act as a surrogate to identify drugs which cause similar effects –
  3. Drug repurposing for longevity studies in model organisms –

As with any good scientific talk, many more questions were raised than answered:

Her final point was that ‘The bridge between clinical and molecular data holds the future of ageing research in humans’. To which I heartily agree and aligns perfectly with what we’re aiming to achieve at Aigenpulse.

On day two, Dr. Jonathan Milner gave a talk entitled ‘Opportunities in the Golden Age of Biology’. Dr. Milner is an extremely successful entrepreneur and is a beacon for UK life science innovation. He founded Abcam in 1998 and has since invested in many life sciences and tech start-ups.

Dr. Milner gave the audience a whistle-stop tour of 5 companies that he’s involved with:

  1. Healx – AI-based drug repurposing
  2. PhoreMost – drug technology platform with indication specific portfolio companies
  3. Elphis – accelerated forward programming of stem cells to differentiated cells
  4. Lift BioSciences – immunotherapy company developing Leukocyte Infusion therapy
  5. Shift Bioscience – drug discovery company targeting the underlying epigenetic causes of ageing

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Dr. Milner’s experience in the field through the eyes of a scientist and entrepreneur gives him a unique view on how best these parts of the ecosystem can better work together to solve some of the world’s biggest problems:

  • to the scientists, Dr. Milner implored them to be more ready to partner with external entities to advance their scientific discoveries from the lab to patients
  • to the entrepreneurs, Dr. Milner asked them to be bold ‘and to run through brick walls’ to get them where they wanted to go
  • to both, Dr. Milner emphasised that the most important work to convince investors and larger corporate partners (e.g. pharma companies) was to focus on de-risking pre-clinical packages.

Dr. Milner’s optimism for the future was infectious. His passion for commercialising break-through science as well as deep technology was palpable. It is at that intersection of science and entrepreneurship that Aigenpulse was born. It is our focus to help our clients to continue to de-risk their pre-clinical packages by giving them a better understanding and generate insight from the data assets which make up these packages.