SIU360 Oxford Session 1: Opportunity Recognition and Construction

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Author: Devon Sheppard Edited by: Burcu Anil Kirmizitas 

The evening of October 18th was the inaugural session of the SIU360º series on translational research in partnership with the Entrepreneurship Centre at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. We were fortunate to have the distinguished Prof. Chas Bountra setting things off for the four part SIU educational sessions. Prof. Bountra is currently a Professor of Translational Medicine in the Department of Clinical Medicine at Nuffield and was previously the Vice President and Head of Biology for GlaxoSmithKline, so he is no stranger to the worlds of academia and industry. He shared with us the current challenges in translational research and medicine and he proposed a challenge to future researchers and biotechnologists to shift the current paradigms. Prof. Bountra spoke to a room filled with young researchers, from academia and industry, an audience most capable of pursuing the novel approach proposed.

The theme of the evening was not simply collaboration, but of openness and shared resources in the pursuit of therapeutics. Prof. Bountra spoke of the driving need for novel, effective, affordable therapeutics for a range of disorders. He also emphasised the critical need to get novel therapeutics to patients quickly. In the current climate of drug discovery, inevitably, far too many resources are devoted to channels of investigation already well tread. Minor variations and generics of existing therapeutics are low risk and low cost paths for the pharmaceutical industry. But without risk, there can be no real innovation and the dire need for improved medicine cannot move forward.

What Prof. Bountra suggests is that the world of biomedical research take a page from that of the tech industry and utilise open sourcing, shared work models and even crowd sourcing to an extent. The ability to pool resources from academia, industry and charity foundations allows the risk inherent in the search for novel therapeutics to be spread over multiple agencies. It also allows focus to be on investigation of only new territories, new pathways and new proteins in the search for improved medicine. In this pursuit, sharing discoveries and reagents openly broadens the line of inquiry, with multiple avenues of investigation and allows  the risks to be spread without overburdening a single research entity or research path.

As with much of the history of drug discovery, novel medicines can come from unlikely places. The need for completely novel modes of treatments means that even very basic research can have medical implications. Prof. Bountra shared with us his work on bromodomains and the development of inhibitors that have a great clinical potential in cancer therapies. Initial selection of epigenetic proteins as pharmaceutical targets doesn’t appear immediately intuitive. However, much of our understanding of canonical biological processes remains incomplete, and the discovery of pathologies and subsequent potential treatment can be found in even the most basic of research. Again this is where the open source approach allows many different approaches and investigations to proceed simultaneously.  It is often necessary to consider a multitude of systems, pathways, and pathologies to find the potential to translate particular research into tangible therapy for patients. 

The evening was a great beginning to what promises to be an engaging and energising series. Bringing together people from different fields and approaches to focus on optimising the path from benchtop to bedside to improved patient care will benefit all of us. If the attendees of the evening are any indication of the future of drug discovery, there is every reason to be excited about the future of translational research and medicine. Enthusiastic young researchers, together with those pioneering porous relationships between academia and industry, promise to make the SIU360 series a great success and an environment ripe for innovation and collaboration