Medicines Discovery Catapult and the high impact medicines discovery

Chris Molloy from Medicines Discovery Catapult

Chris Molloy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC). He joined the organisation two years ago as only the second member of staff. Now, he leads a team of 75 with 20,000sq ft of office and laboratory space. Chris is focused on addressing the high impact ‘somebody really needs to…’ challenges in medicines discovery and ensuring that the patient is put at the heart of the activity.

What is your background?

I have over 30 years’ experience in and around drug discovery, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, informatics, executive search and medicines discovery. My background has made it clear to me that to advance medicines discovery research and development, it takes the application of new technologies, smart people to work with those technologies and it has to be a team sport.

In the two years I’ve been at MDC, it has grown from two people to more than 70. We have developed a credible plan, had great engagement from the sector, received funding from the UK Government and are now delivering, whilst still growing and evolving our offering.
We’re based in the North West, and benefit from the North West’s experienced talent as well as the devolved healthcare of Greater Manchester which offers the sector, through us, unique access to academic and clinical research.

What is MDC aiming to achieve?

We aim to help industrialise and drive the adoption of new, enabling technologies and approaches for the discovery of new medicines. This requires an understanding of the barriers to medicines discovery, the needs of the industry, an experienced workforce who know how to help drive change, industrialise and apply new technologies and the infrastructure to enable smaller companies to collaborate with each other and us to adopt those technologies.

We are a translational centre, and a national workshop, for the industry to use, test technology for the next generation of medicines discovery, and to access the huge amount of infrastructure that the UK has, but which is often poorly accessible.

What’s your vision for MDC and medicines discovery?

Our vision is to ensure that what we do helps put the patient at the heart of discovery. Medicines discovery in the future needs research models that are more patient-driven, informatics that pull on patient, genetic and laboratory data. It also needs to enable medical research charities with patient insights to become drug discoverers, by accessing ethically gathered and reviewed patient data and samples. All these things
put the patient at the heart of discovery.

The answers needed to improve medicines discovery are in the patient, not just in publications. We therefore need access to patient derived samples, data, models and insights from the start. If industry is to become more predictive and productive,
we must involve the patient from the start.

We are working with industry to help the sector achieve and we are working collaboratively in a team sport with industry to make an impact.

MDC chooses areas that really need focus, applying our skills with a willingness to collaborate in order to overcome barriers and benefit everyone from industry to the patient. We rise to the challenge.

What’s your vision for the future of pharma and healthcare?

The concept of targeted and precision medicine is becoming more mainstream. Ultimately, it’s about effective diagnostics that predict and measure disease, and more targeted interventions at the earliest stage. MDC is helping to provide patient-centred medicines by stratifying patients and disease models by their biological signatures, and providing the tools to enable industry to discover the drugs for particular disease subtypes.

How important are collaboration and partnerships to achieving this?

Collaboration and partnerships are critical to this. From the concept of a new medicine to its proof of concept in phase 2, drug discovery requires more than 100 disciplines – this is a team sport. Collaboration is crucial to biotechnology and it is becoming as increasingly important to larger pharmaceutical companies who now see multi-party collaboration as critical to their business.

Most industry players now collaborate in ‘team-science’ projects to undertake R&D. This reflects the fact that we are now a globally connected world, the growing mass of biology that we need to curate, concentrate and use in medicines discovery, as well as the fact that the large pharmaceutical company model has changed and is evolving to become more flexible, applying a multi-party approach to be more successful.

What capabilities does MDC have?

We have a number of tools in our laboratories as well as informatics and brokerage platforms for the community to access elements of the infrastructure which involve patients, academia and the NHS. All parties have assets which are vital to modern medicines discovery.

At our headquarters in Alderley Park, we have 20,000sq ft of office and laboratory space. We have lab-based tools and technologies, complex cell culture expertise and bioanalytics. We have specialists in Informatics who provide data for artificial intelligence trials, tests and industrialisation. We offer brokerage platforms, providing access to consented patient samples and data as well as bringing together public and private sector research assets and UK expertise that are transformational.

We have also created medicines discovery syndicates to help medical research charities become discoverers.

What breakthroughs are you helping to accelerate?

The challenges facing the community are broad and needs are widespread. However, we are focused on critical, high impact areas. These include the industrialisation of new AI methods for drug metabolism, new tools and methods of bioanalytics, expanding the use of acoustic mass spectrometry, proving new methods of microbubble drug delivery and industrialising patient-centred cellular models of disease.

The people who come to work with us do so because they believe in what we’re trying to achieve, they are committed to addressing the challenges the industry is facing and helping the wider community.

Community engagement is strong, but the challenge is prioritising what to address, what are the highest impact ‘somebody really needs to…’ challenges that we can best address.

What else would you like to share?

Our aim is to help address those cross-cutting ‘somebody really needs to…’ challenges. We really need to hear about the barriers to success and market failures. Medicines discovery is really hard, with a nearly 80% failure rate. We need new tools and technologies to become more productive and predictable.

Chris Molloy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Medicines Discovery Catapult.

Go to md.catapult.org.uk