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Nottingham expertise in major European drug discovery partnership

Scientists from Nottingham are part of a major European-wide project aimed at developing the next generation of medicines that are more effective and longer lasting.

The academics from The University of Nottingham are using high-tech laser technology to study in real-time how drug molecules 'stick' to receptors or proteins on the surface of cells in our body in an effort to learn more about how drugs work.

Learning how drugs interact with the cells in our body could lead to further clues on how to design drugs for chronic and life threatening illnesses, such as cancer and asthma, which are better at treating patients and don't have to be taken as regularly as current therapies.

Professor Steve Hill, in the University's School of Biomedical Sciences, is leading the Nottingham side of the project. He said: "The ultimate aim here is to find new ways of interacting with some of those receptors which might form better drugs.

"Nottingham's expertise is in using clever ways to visualise in real-time the speed at which drugs bind and unbind to proteins in the body and to learn about how adding other drugs at the same time may improve or inhibit that.

"The goal will be to develop new medicines that patients don't have to remember to take twice or three times a day or with a meal just one dose a day would be enough."

Bench to bedside

Nottingham is part of a new 18m consortium supported by Europe's Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and major pharmaceutical companies aimed at tackling the development of new drugs. During the course of the five-year project around 500,000 of that funding will come to Nottingham.

Almost 90 per cent of experimental drugs that are tested through expensive clinical trials fail at the final hurdle because they don't work as well as they should. In fact, only one in around 15,000 potential new drugs will make it to market a process that can take almost 15 years from bench to bedside.

The new consortium, led by the German pharma company Bayer HealthCare and Leiden University in the Netherlands and involving a number of universities and SMEs, is entitled Kinetics for Drug Discovery (K4DD) and centres around the recent discovery that the length of time that a drug molecule is bound to proteins in the body may have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the medicine.

The Nottingham team, which also involves Dr Steve Briddon in Biomedical Sciences and Dr Barrie Kellam in the School of Pharmacy, will be bringing their expertise of fluorescent ligand technology to the project.

Investigating effectiveness

Their work centres on G protein-coupled receptors a group of around 400-500 proteins which are the most targeted group of proteins for current medicines. Around 30 per cent of current medicines target the group but currently only successfully use around 40 of the available proteins.

The Nottingham work will centre on new technologies to gain an insight into how the remainder of these targets could be exploited.

They will be using technology invented in Nottingham and the basis for the University spin-out company CellAura Technologies Ltd based in BioCity in which they label a drug molecule with a fluorescent chemical and then detect the light it gives off when interacting with receptors in the cell membrane using high-tech laser confocal microscopes and single molecule detection techniques (fluorescence correlation spectroscopy).

In this way they can observe the way in which drugs are binding and unbinding as it is happening which gives an accurate indication of how effective a drug is and how long its effects are likely to last.

As part of the consortium, Nottingham will be leading the way on the educational side devising training in research, business and communications skills for postdoctoral students from all over Europe, some of which will be based here at the University during the course of the five year project.

Contact: Emma Thorne
University of Nottingham

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