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10 things we learned from Medicines Discovery Catapult CEO Chris Molloy

With a strong focus on the collaboration needed to solve problems common to all members of the medicines discovery community, the Medicines Discovery Catapult is a badly needed newcomer to the scene. Think of them as an enabler: a group dedicated to facilitating communication and cooperation between different branches and sectors, with the aim of initiating collaborations that might not otherwise get off the ground. And the best thing? The solutions gained through this methodology will filter back into the community and benefit everyone.

Biotech and Money recently chatted to CEO Chris Molloy about the Catapult’s goals, principles and benefits for investors.

1. All in the name of enabling collaboration

The Catapult, like many others across a variety of UK sectors, is designed as a bridge to enable collaboration between different parts of the community – in this case all those who work in discovering new medicines and drugs. Translational researchers, medical research charities, venture finance, CROs and many other sections of the SME biopharma community all come under this list.

“The Medicine Discovery Catapult is here to help the medicine discovery community in the UK to collaborate effectively so that it can solve its common problems.

“We provide the expertise, facilities and investment needed to drive that collaboration across discovery science, technology, informatics and the skill of drug discovery – virtualised or externalised – in order to help the community come together over distinct problems. We call these problems ‘air bubbles in the pipes’ which are stopping assets from being able to move.”

2. Obstacle removal

Many challenges will become apparent during the course of producing a new drug: problems that stop an exciting new idea from progressing to the next stage of the process. Chris details the nature of some of these ‘air bubbles’ that the Catapult hopes to remove from from the pipeline:

“The discovery of new medicines, from target validation through to phase 2, is a multidisciplinary process. The ‘air bubbles’ that exist for the community include the relevance of disease models, the development of informatics required for simulation and modelling, and the usefulness of technologies used to assess the effectiveness of drug candidates – bearing in mind that these candidates are being pitted against more and more complex targets!”

3. What does success look like?

So what exactly is the final aim of the Catapult’s mission? What does a job well done look like?

“The Catapult places huge importance on proof in patients. Everything we do is done with the aim of pushing more medicines towards patients, and ultimately it’s the rate and success of phase 2a that we see as being the most important measure of the health of the UK’s medicines discovery community. All the improvements we focus on – technology, process, financing, and so on – must point to that outcome.”

4. Collaboration is key

The Catapult exists to help the medicines discovery community to reach this holy grail of in-patient proof. It’s not that the process wouldn’t work without them, but it would likely be much slower and not get the best results. With the help of such an organisation, however, the resultant ease of communication allows goals to be met more quickly and more successfully.

“We help the community by contributing in areas where otherwise, this help may not occur. One of the important things to note here is that the Catapult is not established to reproduce the work of others. It’s not there to compete with any element of the community; it’s here to enable and prime collaborative R&D around problems shared by many, where individual stakeholders cannot or would not otherwise convene to find solutions. The problems we’ll set out to solve are those that are shared by the community as a whole, and the solutions that are created will be shared and disseminated back into the community in an open manner.”

5. Medical research charities

Chris believes that medicine discovery should revolve around the patient, and that medical research charities are the best way to achieve this due to their strong connections with them.

“We believe the industry should put the patient at the beginning of the discovery process, not somewhere later along the line. It’s vital to remain connected to the patient throughout the process, and for it to remain relevant to them. After all, the answer to drug discovery is in the patient not the publication!

“Medical research charities have the trust of their patients, as well as an understanding of real unmet clinical need, and excellent relationships across the basic research and academic clinician community for that disease. They can play a vital role in influencing the R&D priorities of the industry.”

6. The role of the patient

Beyond simply connecting with patients through MRCs, Chris believes that the medicines discovery community needs to reassess its role, and shift focus once more towards creating products for patients.

“Patients are the ultimate consumers and beneficiaries of the medicine discovery process, and we need to let them influence what we do. You’ve seen the industry increasingly extend its outreach to the academic community in recent years, which is right and proper, but at the same time the influence of the patient has increased too. After all, patients are experts in living with their disease, and that experience and insight is often missing from many discussions that happen, either academic or in industrial circles, where patients are abstract, and disease is a science rather than an experience. Let’s remember that we will all be patients one day.”

7. Innovation is key

Part of the Catapult’s role is to give ground-breaking new medical innovation access to the funding it needs.

“It’s absolutely vital that strong innovation receives the fuel that it needs. Regardless of whether it’s a popular disease area at the time, or if there is a clear patient need, the innovation around that disease must be encouraged. We want to work with the venture and finance communities to think of new, modern methods by which we give that innovation light.”

8. Working with the finance industry

Innovation as a concept, according to Chris, shouldn’t be confined to science! It is just as vital to the process that the financial side of the operation looks to optimise the way it works with its companies.

“We want to engage with the finance community now, at an early stage, about our syndicate model of drug discovery, as well as some of our other activities. We want to explore all the avenues that those experienced in bio-business may have been thinking of for many years already. There’s no reason to think the finance community cannot collaborate and cannot innovate any more or less quickly than the companies they fund!”

9. Time for some disruption

Chris is excited about the change in practice he sees the Catapult being able to bring about, particularly with regards to drug screening, giving a voice to the unheard and preserving expertise.

“I lose sleep over the many medicines I feel the community may have overlooked, due to the relatively simplistic way we’ve screened for them in the past, and I look forward to helping the industry make some of the many disruptive changes that it needs to make.

“There are many people in this industry talking to us about how they have wanted for many years to make certain changes, but felt that they were unable to, or that they were screaming into the wind.

“What also keeps me awake at night is that we have immense pharmaceutical expertise in this nation, which we have a responsibility to harness and pass on to the next generation. I hope the Catapult will play its full role in enabling that, because if we don’t then I think the nation has lost a massive opportunity.”

10. We mustn’t dampen the pace on the war against microbes

One of Chris’ biggest worries concerns humanity’s efforts in antimicrobial medicine.

“I worry about the fact that we are only just picking up on the war against microbial disease, after a long furlough where we thought the problem was solved. My biggest concern here is that in antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral disease, we never lose the focus on those conditions, and that resistance to medicines is never allowed to be forgotten.”

However, Chris believes that the answer lies in utilising the same collaborative strategies employed by the Catapult’s medicine discovery model.

“We must remain at war, and maintain our focus and joined up thinking to enable us to keep ahead of the biology which will challenge us well into the future. We should never feel like we have the problem solved. Microbes are innovating once every 20 minutes - how often are we innovating?”

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