EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Physical Sciences Innovation in Chemical Biology for Bioindustry and Healthcare

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry

Abstract

Chemical Biology is a strategically important area of research for the UK that looks at the development and application of novel tools and techniques for the study of molecular interactions in biological systems. Graduate training in Chemical Biology will play a crucial role in driving innovation and transforming the design process in the biotech and medical technology, agri-science and personal care sectors, as well as stimulating the creation of new start-up enterprises in the UK.
In order to meet these skills a new generation of PhD graduates in Chemical Biology must be trained who are able to connect the scientific and commercial/industrial sectors whilst still being supremely well equipped to work across the Physical and Life Sciences interface, allowing for multiple forms of translational activity. This crucial skills gap will be addressed by the new CDT in "Physical Sciences Innovation in Chemical Biology for Bioindustry and Healthcare" which will train > 90 PhD students over the next 5 years, supported by the multi-disciplinary environment of the world leading Institute of Chemical Biology (ICB) at Imperial College.
The multidisciplinary nature of Chemical Biology and the translational challenges that it poses to students working at the interface between the physical and life sciences and between the academic and commercial worlds makes a CDT structure highly appropriate for supporting student development. Such multi-disciplinary training at this interface is vital to enabling the UK to adapt to the pace of technological change in the life, personal care and agri-sciences sectors. Furthermore, the particular societal, ethical, industrial and entrepreneurial aspects associated with research that will underpin these new technologies requires a bespoke approach that is most effectively delivered in a CDT context.
The ICB and its strategic partners have together crafted a 4-year training and research programme (MRes + 3 Year PhD), which will provide first-hand experience of multi-disciplinary translational research, research leadership, science communication, entrepreneurialism and business skills. This includes technology development in Fab lab type environments, science communication training in collaboration with the BBC, industry led innovation workshops, entrepreneurship training and a "Dragons Den"-type competitions for student-led IP. In addition, we will implement the EVOLVE programme, a journey tailored to the individual designed to give experience of entrepreneurial activities, policy making, media/outreach, industrial research, or research within international academic institutions in the context of achieving a particular goal selected by the CDT student.
This closely knit cohort of students will be supported by an integrated community of over 120 research groups from all three faculties across Imperial College. These activities will be further enhanced by the new dedicated Laboratory for Translational Molecular Research (LTMR).
The tools and technologies that will emerge from the research programme of the CDT will support drug, agrichemical and personal care product discovery through the development of new functional screens, target validation assays, predictive artificial biomimetic models and by providing insights into potential novel targets. They will also assist and advance basic biology, diagnostic technologies, optical finger printing technologies for label free tracking of biomolecules, smart biodelivery systems with tailored release kinetics, small molecule-membrane protein screening assays, in-vitro screens for the non-specific binding of drug molecules, the discovery of biomarkers and offer access to a new suite of quantitative dynamic molecular information.

Planned Impact

The CDT programme will have an impact on the students, their supervisors, the institution (imperial College London) and the wider scientific community, be that in industry or academia.
Impact on Student:
o A cohort of >90 entrepreneurial Chemical Biology researchers will be trained and equipped to become future international academic and industry leaders in the life, personal care and agri-science sectors.
o They will be provided with the first-hand interdisciplinary skills to enable them to cross the divide between the sectors and disciplines.
o Through the 2 month EVOLVE training module the seeds for a new generation of entrepreneurial Chemical Biologists capable of stimulating new enterprises, tackling scientific challenges of the future and engaging in early stages of technology commercialisation will be provided.
o The CDT will stimulate the creation of a matrix of research topics, designed to ensure synergies between PhD projects. This will enable students to help each other to contextualise their work within the wider scope of ICB's activities, find novel solutions in their research and give rise to a living and evolving research programme amongst students and supervisors.
o The CDT will give students access to a network of peers that will represent the beginnings of their professional network.
o It will provide a cohort of PhD graduates with the skills to pursue new enterprises and start-up vehicles.
Impact on the supervisors:
Each supervisor will gain access to expertise and knowledge in a complementary discipline. The student projects will be the bridging mechanism to enable the wider reach of the supervisor's individual scientific objectives, allowing cross-disciplinary approaches to tackle their individual scientific challenges. The jointly supervised PhD projects will generate further collaborations outside the CDT framework, fostering collaborative grants and publications.
Impact on the institution:
o The CDT will stimulate the growth of a collaborative network that spans all Faculties of Imperial College and involves leading industrial organisations. The tools and technologies that will emerge will feed into a number of translational pipelines, which have received investment from Imperial, including the Laboratory for Translational Medicine and the £800M Crick Institute.
Impact on the wider scientific community and society:
o The CDT will function as a creative well-spring for new tools and technologies for manipulating molecular interactions that will tackle key cross-sector grand challenges over the coming decade. The technologies in themselves will offer considerable potential for commercialisation over a 5-10 year timeframe.
o The CDT will bring together research expertise and technologies not available in concert elsewhere in the world. By promoting multi-lateral collaborations the CDT will be able to address research challenges that simply cannot be tackled with discipline/sector-centric approaches.
o These will support drug, agrichemical and personal care product discovery through the development of e.g. new functional screens, target validation assays, predictive artificial biomimicry models, diagnostic technologies, optical finger printing technologies for label free tracking of biomolecules, the discovery of biomarkers and offer access to a new suite of quantitative dynamic information. They will also support increased fundamental understanding of biological systems and the molecular mechanisms underlying health and disease.
o The research programme of the CDT will play a key role in fundamentally reducing the massive, spiralling cost of product development in industry.
o The student empowerment and entrepreneurship activities of the CDT will redefine SME and business relationships with PhD students. Direct negotiations and collaborations will take place with CDT students with a view to commercialising their technologies.

Publications

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