How does medicine work? How are new drugs made? What role does the pharmaceutical industry play? Professors Stefan Knapp and Chas Bountra work in the field of drug discovery. They joined Science Oxford talks in spring 2013.
The role of proteins in cellular signalling and disease is best studied through the development of highly specific chemical inhibitors, which can serve as a tool molecule for functional studies. Professor Stefan Knapp works to determine the structure of protein molecules to understand their regulation and to aid the design of selective inhibitors that can be developed further into efficient drugs.
In spring 2013, the Nuffield Department of Medicine teamed up with Science Oxford Live for their Healthy Season. This engaging and interactive series of evening lectures exploring health, disease, genetics, drug discovery and some of the most topical challenges facing science and medicine today, was a great success.
Over the past 30 to 40 years there have been drastic changes in the way new medicines are developed. Before the 1970s drug development was based on phenotypic assays and 'accidental findings', with an approval process that would often take two to three years to complete. Scientists now have a better understanding of the mechanisms leading to disease development, allowing the selection of 'targets' - regulators which are dysfunctional in the disease - allowing scientists to develop new drugs, which inhibit these cellular targets.
Whole genome sequencing has made personalised medicine a possibility. This means that depending on genetics, patients may need different drugs to manage the same disease. While more targeted drugs need to be developed for smaller genetic subgroups of patients, pharmaceutical companies tend to focus on making drugs for larger patient populations. Furthermore, drug development efforts are often duplicated by a number of different drug companies at the same time, resulting in parallel testing on patients. To combat this, scientists at NDM and pharmaceutical companies are now working together to make the drug discovery process more efficient.
For more information about these collaborations, see Professor Chas Bountra’s lecture on Drug Discovery and the Structural Genomic Consortium.