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Genomics, Structural Biology and Making New Medicines: An Opportunity for Academia to Contribute

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Knowledge that is now emerging from the sequences of genomes of human and pathogens has the potential to accelerate diagnosis, prognosis and cure of disease. We are moving quickly into an era of personalised medicine, not only in familial diseases where a mutation in one gene is important, but also for multigene diseases like diabetes and cancer. Academia can help understand the impacts of both Mendelian and somatic mutations on living organisms. Genome sequences, when taken together with structural and functional information on gene products, mainly proteins, can be helpful in identifying new targets for drug discovery. High-throughput biophysical and structural analyses can be used to investigate the chemical molecules that proteins might bind. I will argue that this is best achieved by structure-guided and small molecule-screening techniques. Here academia can and must contribute, but it is not only Nature papers but also small ideas, often difficult to publish, that are most useful. My lecture will also examine the dynamics of translational processes in academia, biotech and big pharma. We have seen over the past twenty years many mergers and acquisitions in big pharma, but most recently a change of policy towards closing down large research centres, clustering with universities and outsourcing research to small companies and university groups – for example recent developments in Pfizer, AZ and GSK . I will base my comments on my experience of working with big Pharma, on cofounding a small biotech, Astex Therapeutics in Cambridge, and on research funded by Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust in the University into infectious disease and “undruggable” targets.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Philosophical Society series.

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