The Crick has an innovative approach to collaborating with major pharmaceutical companies, focused on ‘open science’. We bring together the knowledge of our discovery scientists with the pharmaceutical research and development expertise of colleagues in industry to open up possibilities for scientific discovery that would not be possible for each partner working alone.
One of the greatest challenges in developing new medicines or diagnostics is knowing where to begin. Scientists still have much to learn about the biology of many diseases.
Those in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector recognise that we need to understand more about the biological processes at the root of different conditions to get a better idea of how to target them with new therapies.
Industry scientists at the Crick
Industry scientists are physically embedded in the institute, where they work alongside Crick scientists on joint projects, with an emphasis on open publication of research results. Crick scientists also spend time in industry to capitalise on complementary technical capability.
At the Crick we aim for a ‘porous’ system, where evidence and data are generated collaboratively. This allows us to share knowledge, disseminate findings through publication, support the training of scientists and provide expertise in translational science.
Our industry projects
There are typically around 25 active industry projects at any one time, covering a range of diseases, from cancer and infectious diseases to metabolic diseases and neurological disorders. These projects can relate to:
- target identification and validation for therapeutics, including reagent development;
- development of disease model systems;
- testing drugs in relevant disease models and exploring drug mode of action;
- 'omics' projects for detailed and targeted screening and improvement of early-stage drug discovery;
- exploring diagnostics and prognostic biomarkers;
- bioinformatic and technology platforms for detailed data analysis;
- biophysics and crystallography for structure-based therapeutic discovery.
Fiona Marshall quote
"MSD is proud to co-locate our team of drug discovery scientists within the Francis Crick Institute, in recognition of the world-leading science that takes place here and the opportunity for wide-ranging scientific collaborations.
Our decision to invest in a new HQ and discovery research centre in the Knowledge Quarter reflects our confidence in this thriving regional life sciences hub and the opportunities it provides to grow our team, our networks and collaborations, as we continue to follow the science.
We have been inspired by the Crick’s approach to educational outreach in Camden. MSD is therefore delighted to be partnering with the Crick on their 2021 work experience programme to support local young people by sharing our passion for science and Inventing for Life."
Dr Fiona Marshall
Senior Vice President, Head of Discovery Sciences and Translational Medicine, MSD
Our pre-competitive partners
We have three major pre-competitive pharma partnerships within the building and we also work with many other companies on small and large-scale collaborations.
Examples of industry partnerships
Chemical biology probes
Through the GSK LinkLabs collaboration, Katrin Rittinger’s group in the Molecular Structure of Cell Signalling lab at the Crick have developed a library of covalent small molecule fragments, which have the potential to become novel antibacterial therapeutics.
A common way of controlling cell signalling is the modification of proteins with small molecules (chemical ‘tags’), which change their behaviour or location within a cell. One such modifier is the small protein ubiquitin that can be attached to other proteins - a process called ubiquitination. Defects in the ubiquitination system have been linked to many diseases including cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Katrin’s team has been looking at ways to target the ubiquitination process. Specifically, team members have developed a probe library that can target a family of bacterial enzymes that are used by pathogenic bacteria to suppress the host immune response. Such probes could be used to investigate how pathogenic bacteria cause illnesses, as well as having therapeutic potential.
Julian Downward’s group at the Crick researches how gene mutations contribute to the origin and spread of cancers and has been studying the gene KRAS for decades.
Mutations in KRAS play a role in 15% of all cancers and the protein encoded by KRAS has been a critical target for drug development for some time, but has proved to be extremely challenging.
Pharmaceutical companies have libraries of millions of potential compounds which could be effective drugs, but the current method for testing the effectiveness of these compounds on the KRAS protein would take several years and cost millions of pounds to scan just one of these libraries.
Improving testing speed
After being introduced to the assay development team at AstraZeneca by the Crick’s Translation team, Crick postdoc Soly Ismail is now working with a screening specialist at AstraZeneca to adapt the current screening system into a high-throughput, robust and reasonably priced assay.
The new system being developed by the team should be able to scan AstraZeneca’s library of two million compounds in a matter of weeks and at a fraction of the cost. When compounds are scanned using the new assay, any ‘hits’ will open up new opportunities for the development of cancer drugs specifically targeting KRAS.
Targeting ALS (motor neurone disease)
MSD scientists are working with Rickie Patani's lab at the Crick to understand the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called motor neurone disease, and identify potential targets for future treatments.
ALS is a devastating disease, which is incurable and invariably fatal. Average survival is between three and five years and patients become increasingly paralysed: they lose the ability to speak, eat, and breathe. Therapies in development either target specific familial forms of ALS (comprising less than 10% of all cases) or emanate from reliance on primary data from animal models or non-human/non-neuronal cell models. Neither have so far led to an effective treatment.
There is a need for a unified understanding of common primary events leading to ALS pathogenesis in order to open up new opportunities for effective therapeutic intervention.