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World’s first “hands-free” drug discovery lab to be created in the UK

UK government has announced a new project to develop the world’s first fully-automated drug discovery facility with the aim to accelerate the production of new medicines and “transform” the pharma industry.

Business Secretary, Greg Clark, stated that the venture, which is based at the government-funded research facility the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Harwell, Oxfordshire, will pioneer “hands-free molecular discovery” to produce new drugs at a speed of up to ten times than that of the norm.

First step within the project is to develop “an integrated suite of new technologies” able to accelerate the discovery of high-quality lead molecules, “dramatically reducing the cost of drug discovery”.

The lead scientist, Professor Adam Nelson, from the University of Leeds stated “This won’t be a traditional chemistry lab, it will have a unique design and harness robotics and AI to automate the discovery process. It will allow hundreds or thousands of candidate molecules to be investigated at a time. We aim to increase productivity by 5 to 10 times.”

“But faster processing isn’t enough. We also want to find higher quality starting points for drug discovery to maximise the chances of success at later stages in the discovery pipeline.  This will enable to remain globally competitive in bring new drugs to the market that can meet the needs of patients,” he added.

The project will be developed via a collaboration between companies, SMEs, universities, and the Medicines Discovery Catapult, the government confirmed.

The RFI, which officially launches today, aims to utilise disruptive new technologies such as AI and robotics to improve understanding of biology, in the hope of developing new diagnostics, new drugs, and new treatments.

The Institute is also tasked with pioneering new ways of working with industry, as part of the UK’s AI and Data Grand Challenge, thereby helping to bridging the gap between university research and pharmaceutical companies or small businesses.

“It will bring university researchers together with industry experts in one facility and embrace high-risk, adventurous research, that will transform the way we develop new medicines,” said Professor Ian Walmsey, pro-vice-chancellor Research & Innovation at the University of Oxford, and chair of the RFI’s Interim Board.

The Institute is streaming £6 million into funding for its first projects, which includes developing the World’s best ultra-fast video camera for imaging tissue with greater sensitivity and at higher resolution than any other instrument currently available.

“The camera will be invaluable in developing new techniques that use sound and light for both detecting and treating disease, including some of the most lethal forms of cancer such as pancreatic and brain tumours, with minimal side effects for patients,” the institute noted.

Source : Pharmatimes