Prosperity Partnership places Southampton at heart of innovative drug development

IfLS imaging lab at Southampton
High-resolution 3D imaging, augmented by machine learning, can assess the effectiveness of new drugs

A new partnership between the University of Southampton, M Squared and global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will look at how the process of drug and medicine discovery can be sped up and its efficiency improved.

The collaboration is one of nine Prosperity Partnerships announced by Science Minister Amanda Solloway to be funded by a total £75 million investment from business, academia and UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The Partnerships build on existing UK strengths in academia and industry to develop new technologies, processes, and skills that will deliver economic growth and create jobs in areas across the UK.

Southampton’s Prosperity Partnership with M Squared and AstraZeneca aims to revolutionise imaging technologies used to assess the effectiveness of new drug candidates in treating various conditions. It aims to develop tools that will provide live, high-resolution 3D images on a large scale to determine the impact of drug candidates in living spheroid, organoid and organ-on-a-chip systems that mimic real human physiology. These living systems are miniaturised yet realistic versions of human tissue and organs that are derived from one or more types of biological cells. This would provide an upgrade on current techniques which rely on the invasive and time-consuming process of using fluorescent light to determine their impact.

Professor Sumeet Mahajan, Professor in Molecular Biophotonics & Imaging in Southampton’s School of Chemistry and Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS), is excited by the prospects presented by the Prosperity Partnership and the opportunity to work with key industry partners as well as colleagues within the University from the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the School of Biological Sciences and IfLS.

“This Prosperity Partnership will bring together technology developers and end-users to create transformative opportunities in quantitative imaging of 3D biological samples,” Professor Mahajan enthused. “Novel volume imaging technologies at unprecedented resolution and speed, augmented by machine learning, will bring about a step change in the pre-clinical testing of drug candidates for pharma industry and for evaluating treatments.”

Robert Forster, Head of Biophotonics at M Squared said: “The opportunity the project has to create a step change in shortening the time it takes to bring drug candidates to the clinic is truly exciting”

More than £110 million has been invested by EPSRC and £131 million leveraged from 70 businesses, bringing total investment in 39 Prosperity Partnerships to more than £274 million.

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “To tackle key challenges and seize new opportunities we need to harness the world-class expertise of both industry and academia. The Prosperity Partnerships announced do this by supporting collaborations that will develop transformative new technologies with the potential to deliver societal impact and economic growth.”

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