SMD NEWS: QMI awards 5 academics PoC funding to develop their innovative translational research

In the past few months, QMUL alongside other UK Universities had to deal with the social restrictions of the coronavirus. However, this did not stop Queen Mary Innovation, the technology transfer office of QMUL, from holding their annual Biopharma and LSI Proof of Concept (PoC) competition aimed for researchers at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. The PoC applications were evaluated for their potential to provide commercially valuable research to patient benefit.

The winners of this year’s Biopharma PoC are Prof. Amrita Ahluwalia, Dr. Cleo Bishop, Dr. Pedro Cutillas, and the LSI PoC are Prof. Martin Knight and Dr Natalia Karpukhina alongside Dr Maher Rashwan.

Professor Amrita Ahluwalia, Professor of Vascular Pharmacology

£50K awarded for the development of new treatments for heart failure – Prof. Amrita Ahluwalia

My project aims to develop small molecules that target an enzyme that is upregulated in tissues of the cardiovascular system during heart failure. This enzyme has some interesting biochemistry that endows it with the capacity to synthesise three different substances: two of which are thought to be detrimental in disease i.e. uric acid and superoxide. Our plan is to develop small molecules that reduce the levels of these molecules whilst simultaneously improving the generation of a third product of its catalytic activity; a substance known to be protective in the cardiovascular system called nitric oxide.

The PoC panel was made up of external experts from pharma and small biotechs. They were knowledgeable and asked some insightful questions. After I found out of our success, I was provided with feedback that has helped steer the direction of our work.

This funding will help us to develop our project to stage to apply for more substantial funding that support drug development. The support from QMI and their encouragement to apply for the funding has made a great difference to how this project has progressed. I am very pleased that the panel chose us and very grateful for the support of QMI!

Dr Cleo Bishop, Reader in Senescence and Director of Graduate Studies

£50k awarded for the development of new senolytic cancer therapeutics – Dr. Cleo Bishop

Senotherapy is an exciting, emerging anti-cancer concept that offers a potential to maximise therapeutic efficiency and patient outcome. Senotherapy harnesses a new class of small molecules, called senolytics, to selectively kill senescent cells. Our proposal aims to perform further pre-clinical validation of novel senolytic compounds utilising our panel of novel targets and established 2D and 3D in vitro models.

The PoC panel contained external experts in drug discovery pipelines, providing an important commercial assessment of the scientific feasibility, patentability and industry appetite for our proposal outcome. During the interview, the panel’s questions probed our workflows, technical expertise and approaches, as well as how our research aims sat within the wider pharma landscape.

The PoC funds provides with timely funding to enable us to continue with the drug discovery workflow, and to generate data to pump prime larger grant applications, potentially in collaboration with industrial partners.

Dr Pedro Cutillas, Reader in Cell Signalling and Proteomics

£50k awarded for stratifying patients for treatments that reverse or prevent drug resistance – Dr. Pedro Cutillas

The PoC grant application was straightforward and the feedback received from the panel was useful. Drug resistance is major problem that limits the success of anticancer therapies. The research that this grant will support relates to how understanding the mechanisms of how cells communicate may be used to prevent or reverse drug resistance to a class of drugs that target kinases. I anticipate that this research will be extremely useful for us to identify new ways of treating drug-resistant cancer cells so that they become sensitive to therapies.

Prof Martin Knight, Professor of Mechanobiology, Director of Research

£50k awarded for a new treatment for rare disease, Jeune Syndrome – Prof. Martin Knight

This project will identify compounds for the treatment of a rare genetic disease, Jeune Syndrome, that disrupts skeletal formation. The disease is caused by mutation in the genes that regulate primary cilia the tiny hair-like cellular structures that coordinate a variety of important signalling pathways. The PoC project builds on our recent work conducting a high throughput screen of compounds. We will test whether hit compounds can correct the genetic defect in primary cilia and prevent life-threatening skeletal malformation.

The interview panel, led by Prof David Lee, included a mixture of academics, industrialists and potential investors, and provided a useful experience with challenging questions and feedback. We are excited to start this project and hope that it will open the way to new treatment for Jeune Syndrome as well as other conditions associated with disruption of primary cilia. Working with the team at QMI has already been valuable in helping us to think about potential IP and commercialisation pathways to ensure our research has maximum clinical and societal benefit.

Dr Natalia Karpukhina, Reader in Dental Physical Sciences

£50k awarded for the development of novel highly machinable glass-ceramics for dental CAD-CAM technology- Dr Natalia Karpukhina

We are developing novel machinable ceramics for the rapid and most efficient digital processing and fabrication of dental restoration. Our plan is to a develop material which will have reduced time and cost to its production. The final restoration will have superior aesthetics and strength but will incur much lower wear to the opposing teeth compared to the existing digitally processed ceramics.

Our team uniquely combines fundamental and applied science expertise with clinical dentistry and dental technology. This helped us in preparation of grant applications as well as during the interview by the PoC panel.

Dr Maher Rashwan, qualified dentist and PhD candidate in dental materials

The PoC panel of external experts in life science industry and commercialisation explored our approach to developing a competitive dental ceramic product; we were thoroughly questioned on applied science and the business side of the project.

The feedback, particularly on commercialisation, was useful and insightful. It provided ideas on how to shape the project in the most beneficial way.

We are very grateful to the PoC panel for the selection of our project. This enables us to move our project forward in the timeliest manner and to develop a new material for rapid digital restorations. We are thankful to QMI for their generous support and guidance during the whole application process and now throughout the duration of the project.

For further information on Biopharma PoC and how QMI can support your research to reach patient benefit get in touch with us at QMI. The next PoC fund call will run in Spring 2021.

Eleftheria Ledaki, Commercialisation Manager Biopharma,
Dr Michele Hill- Perkins, Head of Technology Transfer Biopharma,
Dr Liisa Chisty, Commercialisation Manager Biopharma,
Dr Ben Golland, Commercialisation Executive, Technology and Engineering,