Cambridge scientists showcase research in Parliament



A University of Cambridge spin-out which developed a ground-breaking method for drug discovery this week showcased its work in Parliament, as part of a national campaign run by the Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics.


Entitled ‘Inspirational science for a modern economy’, the campaign demonstrates UK success stories, both in chemistry and physics, where innovations and companies have been formed from university science departments.

The campaign highlights the importance of long-term government funding to science and the benefits it has on the UK economy. The UK science and innovation system produces 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited publications,  despite research and development investment (1.6%) falling behind competitors such as the USA and Germany, who invest 2.8% and 2.9% respectively.

Professor Chris Abell and Sir Tom Bundell began investigating enzyme inhibition in relation to drug development in the 1990s.  This led to collaboration with Dr Harren Jhoti and the establishment of the company Astex Technology Ltd in 1998, backed by City investors interested in supporting biotechnology start-up companies. Astex built upon the university’s fundamental research by combining fragment-based drug discovery roboticised data collection.

Astex has created eight potential drugs that have processed to clinical development. The company was sold to SuperGen Inc for £100m, creating Astex Pharmaceuticals with an estimated value in excess of £320m. In 2013, the company was acquired by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals for $886m. Fragment-based drug discovery is recognised as one of the most important developments in drug discovery in the last 20 years.

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s President, Professor Dominic Tildesley, said: “We have the evidence to show that Britain is a world leader in science and that Government investment in science boosts the UK economy. There are innovative projects and companies springing up all the time and we want to see a commitment to a long-term strategy for increasing investment to ensure that we all continue to benefit from our scientific success.”

Celebrating the value of scientific research, researchers, research councils and companies included in the joint campaign, presented their work to MPs, showing the real power and difference government funding to science can have, both in terms of new discoveries and technologies transforming lives, and also in economic gains.

For more on this case study and others, see the collection.

Image: MP Nicola Blackwood, Chair of Science and Technology Select Committee, addressing the audience.

Photo credit: IOP.

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