UK launches new research institute tasked with improving drug discovery
- The U.K. government has announced funding for the first wave of projects to take place at the £103 million (about $138 million) Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI), a new life sciences research institute based at the Harwell campus, near Oxford.
- The aim of the institute is to use artificial intelligence, robotics and other physical sciences technologies to tackle challenges in life sciences and healthcare, in particular the hurdles faced in the often long process of drug discovery.
- In this first phase, the RFI will invest about $8 million in the development of next-generation imaging methods and on new chemical methods and strategies for drug discovery.
The Rosalind Franklin Institute, which was announced in February 2017, is an independent organization funded by the U.K. government through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and operated by 10 U.K. universities.
The institute's central hub, due to open in 2020, will be at the Research Campus at Harwell, and the roughly $54 million build will be delivered by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The hub will host 150 researchers from both academia and industry, with equipment and physical scientists, engineers and life scientists based at 'spokes' at the partner network of universities, including Oxford and Cambridge among others.
The first tranche of funding covers development of three new areas. These include development of an advanced real-time video camera to support a new form of sound- and light-based cancer treatment, and a facility that will harness artificial intelligence to generate new drugs for clinical testing more quickly.
A second focus is a planned fully-automated and hands-free drug discovery facility, which will be developed through a collaboration between small and large companies, universities, and the Medicines Discovery Catapult. The facility will include instrumentation that allows for improved observation of the interactions between drug candidates and target proteins.
"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," said lead scientist Adam Nelson of the University of Leeds in a statement.
The RFI is named after the scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose work on the use of X-rays to study biological structures played a crucial role in the discovery of the structure of DNA.
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