Research Impact and Working with Industry
Our research covers a broad range of fields, from the individual molecule to the human patient, and the impact of our research is equally broad. Here are just a few examples of the types of impact made by our research.
Working with the Pharmaceutical industry
The close link between the science underpinning pharmacy, the pharmacy profession, and the pharmaceutical industry are reflected in our many links with industry. In addition to traditional links with "big pharma" and multinational pharmacy chains, we have links with many other industrial partners such as biotechnology firms, technology SMEs and other high-tech groups.
Typical links with industry include contract research activity, co-funded collaborative grants and postgraduate studentships. We have been very successful in attracting PhD studentships jointly funded by industry matched from a range of sources, such as GW pharmaceuticals, UCB, RSSL and Oxoid Thermo Fisher.
Case study: GW Pharmaceuticals
Epilepsy is estimated to affect 50 million people worldwide, including 2.2 million people in the United States alone. Drug therapy remains ineffective for seizure control in approximately 30% of patients with epilepsy, either because the drugs do not control the seizures or because the patients cannot tolerate the drug side effects. Many currently available drugs can cause significant side effects(e.g. affecting movement and cognition) that can adversely affect the quality of life for epileptic patients.
The findings of research by the School of Pharmacy's Ben Whalley and Gary Stephens - that some non-psychoactive components of cannabis can control epileptic-like seizures in rats without any adverse effects - initiated a collaboration with the British biopharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals in 2005 to establish whether two plant cannabinoids (cannabidiol and cannabidavarin) were legitimate anti-epileptic drug candidates.
The compelling evidence from Whalley and Stephens' pre-clincial work had a direct impact on the subsequent commitment of GW Pharmaceutical to conduct clinical drug trials for both compounds. Following successful Phase 1 and 2 trials, GW Pharmaceuticals announced (14 March 2016) the first positive Phase 3 study results for their candidate drug Epidiolex (cannabidiol) in the treatment of Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that begins in infancy. It is expected that Epidiolex will be launched on the market by early 2017.
Working with technology startups
Innovation in healthcare, whether developing new drugs, novel formulations, or innnovative technology, is often commercially driven by the formation of a new company. Reading School of Pharmacy has links with entrepreneurship experts at the Henley Business School to ensure these opportunities are spotted early, and to guarantee that some of our research can be translated into real patient benefit. Henley Business School Entrepreneurship
Case study: CFT Ltd
The School of Pharmacy's Dr Al Edwards is leading the development of a novel technology for the rapid diagnosis of heart attacks.
Acute chest pain has been reported to be the most common cause of hospital admissions in the UK, but many of these cases will have non-cardiac underlying causes. Accurate and prompt differentiation of heart conditions (and heart attacks in particular) is therefore vital to ensure appropriate and timely intervention when required and to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.
Dr Edwards has worked closely with Dr Nuno Reis (University of Loughborough Chemical Engineering Department) over the past 5 years to develop new technology in this area, by exploiting the unique properties and low cost of a novel microfluidic fluoropolymer material called "Microcapillary Film" that is ideal for rapid biomarker measurements and accurate diagnostics.
Edwards and Reis co-founded Capillary Film Technology Ltd. (CFT) in 2012 to develop point-of-care diagnostic products, focussing initially on the analysis of the key cardiac biomarker troponin. Since then, Edwards has led research to develop a prototype diagnostic device, funded by over £1M in development contracts through the Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare. The device is currently being tested, prior to seeking regulatory approval and could be available in NHS hospitals as early as autumn 2017.
CFT Ltd: www.capfilmtech.com
Developing tools for drug development
Developments in advanced computational methods for crystal structure determination over the past two decades have made it possible for the complex molecular crystal structures to be solved quickly and routinely from powder diffraction data. Today, research led by Dr Kenneth Shankland in the School of Pharmacy continues to accelerate progress in this field and in particular, its application in the field drug development.
Knowledge of the molecular crystal structure of a drug molecule is crucial to fully understanding its physicochemical properties. In the many cases where single crystals of a drug of interest cannot be obtained, powder diffraction provides the only alternative route to obtaining this information. Prior to ca. 1998, the applicability of the powder diffraction approach was largely limited to simple structures containing only a few non-hydrogen atoms and even then, structure solutions were considered by many to be individual tours de force.
In 1999, Dr Kenneth Shankland and Prof. Bill David, working at the ISIS Facility of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, developed a software package designed specifically to make crystal structure determination from powder diffraction data a near-routine process. The DASH package was unique in that it solved crystal structures hundreds of times faster than other related approaches, and was sold around the world to major pharmaceutical companies. Today, DASH remains a widely used tool in industry and in academia, and is co-developed and sold by the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC) as part of their Cambridge Structural Database System (CSDS).
Since moving to the University of Reading in 2009, Dr Shankland has focussed on ways to further improve the performance of DASH, with a particular emphasis on increasing the structural complexity of the problems to which DASH can be applied, and decreasing the time taken to obtain a crystal structure. One of the ways he is doing this is by incorporating a cloud computing approach. By distributing hundreds (or even thousands) of individual DASH runs over a virtual computing cluster running in the cloud, the time taken to obtain a crystal structure can be dramatically reduced.
Dr Shankland's team is also working with the drug development company C4X Discovery. Together, they are applying C4X's expertise in NMR and conformational analysis to further enhance the DASH approach to structure determination. The collaboration provides C4X with a novel and relevant application area for the data that they routinely generate, and opens up exciting possibilities for pushing the limits of powder diffraction still further.
Working with patients and the public
Our research is often focussed directly at the interface between healthcare provider (e.g. the pharmacist) and the patient or public. This clinical practice research is highly collaborative and takes a wide range of forms, ranging from student research projects (e.g. audits in local hospitals) through to longer research projects sponsored by the NHS or industrial partners. A past example is featured in this REF2014 case study: Impact Case Study 39364
We are keen to expand links with Industry. We are also keen to set up Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) . If you would like to work with us, please contact the Director of Research, Dr Patrick Lewis.