UCL Proximity to Discovery (PtoD) Fund 2015/16 Application

Lead Research Organisation: University College London


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Technical Summary

The MRC Proximity to Discovery scheme awards universities funds to help develop new collaborations, and ways of exchanging knowledge and skills.  The awards can be used to support activities that promote the value of academic-industry partnership, and enhance academic and industry researchers’ understanding of each other’s needs and capabilities.  This may be through people exchanges, creation of technology demonstrators, showcase events, commercialisation workshops and ‘entrepreneurs in residence’ schemes.  Such exchanges of knowledge and skills will boost the most fruitful collaborations between UK universities and life science companies.


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Description Amy Webster secondment to Seven Bridges Genomics Ltd 
Organisation Seven Bridges Genomics Inc
PI Contribution This project allowed knowledge transfer from UCL to SevenBridges about epigenomic research, including details about best practice analysis pipelines for both array-based and sequencing-based projects, and biological background to the research field. This project also allowed development of a series of workshops which will be held at UCL in the coming months, aiming to train UCL staff on how to use the SevenBridges and Cancer Genome Cloud platforms. This is mutually beneficial to both institutions as it allows SevenBridges to strengthen their link with academia, and gives UCL staff an opportunity to optimise their use of the platforms. We have also produced a joint publication which is currently in preparation.
Collaborator Contribution The Secondee gained experience of using the SevenBridges and Cancer Genome Cloud platforms, which will help in her further academic research. She also gained valuable experience working in a private company environment, which will encourage her to pursue enterprise activities beyond her academic research in the future. The project allowed the establishment of a series of workshops which will expand the knowledge transfer beyond the secondee to the wider research staff at UCL. A valuable collaboration was founded during the project, which allowed the development of a storage solution for open-access multi-omics data, which will allow improved access to the data by researchers in the wider community, by increasing its accessibility and usability. The project also gave the Secondee valuable experience of working in a private company, which will likely in the future encourage her to pursue enterprise activities in the future.
Impact we are currently applying for further funding to support the continued storage of PGP-UK data on the Cancer Genome Cloud platform for use by academic researchers. We have planned a series of training workshops for UCL staff, in which SevenBridges staff will demonstrate how to use the platform and how to optimise research performed on their platform. We are also preparing a joint publication describing the pilot project of the PGP-UK and the publicly available project containing multi-omics data on the SevenBridges platform, which was set up during this project.
Start Year 2017
Description Elnaz Yaghini secondment to Nanoco Technologies 
Organisation Nanoco
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Dr Elnaz Yaghini is an experienced biomedical researcher who will help Nanoco consolidate their new undertaking into bioscience (having just created a new bioscience division). Elnaz brings considerable expertise on tissue culture and in vivo applications of nanoparticles which will inform the Nanoco team.
Collaborator Contribution Nanoco will train Elnaz in nanoparticle characterisation and peptide conjugation techniques for tumour targeting.
Impact The company benefitted from Dr Yaghini's expertise in cell culture and she was able to advise them on how they should proceed with their own studies. This knowledge exchange has helped improve the skills of their staff in the biomedical area which the company is expanding into with the aim of securing new markets for the quantum dots.
Start Year 2016
Description Hugo Spiers to Centric Lab 
Organisation Centric Lab (London) Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Companies involved in architectural design and city planning are becoming increasingly aware of the need to account for how their designed spaces impact on health and well-being. This is particular the case in care homes for people with dementia or old age, but also generally for improving the mental health of millions of people living in congested cities. Currently, it is difficult for architects, construction companies and city planners to make use of the recent discoveries on human behaviour that come from neuroscience and psychology. Recently, a new start up company, CENTRIC, was formed to address this need. The company have received financial backing from the construction firm ARUP and are in negotiations with other funders. The development of this company provides a useful opportunity for UCL. Research in Dr Spiers group in UCL (Experimental Psychology) has recently focused on the interaction between neuroscience and architecture. The aim is to establish a UCL linked research consultancy within CENTRIC which provides industry focused research experiments and advise to design and construction companies (e.g ARUP) to aid the design of cities and buildings in order to create spaces that promote well-being and support people with dementia.
Collaborator Contribution The Centric Lab PROVIDE USEABLE METRICS AND PRACTICAL INSIGHTS TO ORGANISATIONS WANTING TO BETTER UNDERSTAND HOW PEOPLE INTERACT IN A BUILT ENVIRONMENT. THEIR APPROACH IS BASED ON THE USE OF NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH, ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS. Their focus is on human experience in a given built environment allowing them to shed light for example on: Homes caring for the elderly with dementia.
Impact Too early.
Start Year 2016
Description Laura McCoy secondment to GSK 
Organisation GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
Country Global 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Dr McCoy has previously established novel antibody isolation methods for multiple species as part of her on-going work investigating humoral responses to HIV infection and vaccine candidates. By the end of the secondment the GSK Antibody Selections Section will have benefitted from the development of a robust single B cell cloning protocol for future antibody selections to replace currently used hybridoma technology. This is expected to generate more than a 50% increase in numbers of antibodies selected by new technique and a greater range of functional activity in the antibodies discovered. In addition, the GSK team will have six-months direct access to Dr McCoy's academic expertise in isolating extremely rare antibodies, including knowledge of methods to avoid selection bias and identify antibodies with the required function. GSK will also benefit in the long-term (over the next 5-10 years) via the establishment of a long-term connection to an academic lab at a top UK research centre focused on evaluating antibody responses in human disease.
Collaborator Contribution UCL will benefit directly from the proposed secondment primarily due to the advanced knowledge of B cell repertoire analysis that will be transferred to Dr McCoy. A key benefit to Dr McCoy will be gaining first-hand knowledge of what determines developability for a therapeutic antibody; this will be invaluable in her future research, which will involve novel antibody discovery. The Antibody Selections Section at GSK have extensive experience in which properties translate to a useful antibody-based drug and which factors can cause significant problems in development. By working as part of the team Dr McCoy will gain insight into these issues, which can be translated to her own research at UCL. This will enable the selection of best candidates as potential therapeutic antibodies during her studies of antibody repertoires during HIV infection. Dr McCoy will also a gain a much deeper understanding of the bioinformatic analysis tools needed to answer specific questions in evaluating antibody repertoire diversity, and how these tools can be developed.
Impact none as yet
Start Year 2017
Description Mary Wheldon secondment to LifeArc 
Organisation LifeArc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The objectives of the secondment were to: 1. transfer knowledge about the challenges and advantages of using phenotypic screening for drug discovery of first-in-class drugs 2. learn practical skills for the development of cell-based phenotypic assays (including demonstrating robustness, miniaturisation and marker validation) 3. apply these new skills to carry out a series of phenotypic screens This project allowed for the first time a drug discovery collaboration between the TRO Drug Discovery Group and LifeArc. Both UCL and LifeArc were able to share expertise, skills training and access to equipment, which has not previously been possible within one individual group.
Collaborator Contribution The secondment provided the opportunity for a UCL post-doctoral researcher to gain valuable training in the latest advances in phenotypic screening technology, in which primary cell models of disease are employed to identify novel targets. Dr Wheldon learnt how to perform protein thermal melt screening, using three disease relevant assays and how to evaluate the compound-protein binding data.
Impact The screening was successful and three series' of compounds were identified: two of which bind to a known site but address key drug parameters absent from existing compounds; and a third series which appears to bind at a previously un-drugged site. These exciting results have allowed the Drug Discovery team to secure further funding to investigate these compounds further - £75,000 from the UCL Therapeutic Acceleration Support Fund (supported by the MRC Confidence in Concept scheme). On a personal level, Dr Wheldon received training in cutting edge technologies and to industry standard. Importantly, this project has enhanced the capabilities of the TRO Drug Discovery Group to support the latest translational research across UCL and future collaborative screening campaigns.
Start Year 2017
Description Reem Ahmad secondment to the National Physics Laboratory 
Organisation NPL Ltd
PI Contribution Reem Ahmad in the proposed secondment will develop the next stage of this work through developing standardised methodology to measure the impact of irradiated metallic NPs in cells; the developed methodology can be implemented by other researchers in this field, and eventually by clinical departments to inform treatment planning dose calculation.
Collaborator Contribution Reem will introduce the 3D model to NPL scientists and bridge together biological and physics methodologies. Knowledge transfer of 3D in vitro cell techniques (UCL expertise) and NP biodistribution measurement. 2 NPL staff will be trained in this. Benefit from clinical expertise in radiotherapy physics from UCL team (KR is accredited NHS radiotherapy physicist). 2 NPL staff and 2 JRC staff will benefit. Benefit from computational modelling techniques from UCL team. Reem Ahmad brings considerable expertise on radiation transport computational simulation, and the simulation of nanoscale devices and dose distributions, which will inform the NPL team. 2 NPL staff will directly benefit.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2017
Description Ruth Jamieson secondment to Precision Medicine Catapult 
Organisation Diabetes UK
Department Precision Medicine Catapult
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Established in April 2015, the PMC aims to make the UK a world centre for precision medicine, by providing strategic leadership for the sector, brokering links between academia, industry and government and enabling access to expertise in the collection and analysis of clinical data. The objectives of the secondment are: ? to work with the PMC to explore, identify and assess Precision Medicine activity across the London academic, research and health landscape. ? to validate and qualify identified Precision Medicine opportunities that best meet the criteria for PMC to support and advance in line with PMC's emerging 5-year strategy and plan. ? to work with the PMC Clinical programmes team to initiate and mobilise identified and agreed priority projects in London.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge exchange around government policy and strategic thinking around precision medicine.
Impact This collaboration has already proven fruitful in its first few months. Dr Jamieson has led the scientific evaluation of Precision Medicine opportunities, while gaining new knowledge on the business and regulatory components of such projects and is currently developing the concept of a precision medicine accelerator, piloted from UCL, but open nationally to any UK SME. As such the secondment has been extended for an additional 12 months fully funded by PMC. The knowledge exchange to both organisations is helping to shape the future strategies in this important area.
Start Year 2016
Description Sanjay Budhdeo secondment to Telefonica 
Organisation Telefonica S.A
Department Telefónica UK Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The aim of this collaboration is to identify studies that investigate the neuroscientific foundation of mobile telephony data (1) as a proof of principle (2) in specific contexts, which would aid their product development. Aims include: • To identify common areas of scientific research between Telefonica and UCL. • To identify the most appropriate populations the UCL that would allow a rapid a productive testing of hypothesis. • To develop specific hypothesis that result in data sharing agreements between UCL and Telefonica.
Collaborator Contribution This award helped advance discussions regarding the specifics about how Dr Sharma and Dr Budhdeo will be able to collaborate with Telefonica Alpha to achieve those aims.
Impact • Collaboration with Telefonica Alpha allows access to novel data sources, match with data science knowledge • Immersion in the Telefonica Alpha environment: o Enabled the crystallisation of specific hypotheses and discussion of experimental paradigms o Resulted in a deeper understanding of the culture, goals and investment horizons of Telefonica Alpha, and facilitated relationship development with the Telefonica Alpha team and discussions about deeper involvement between UCL and Telefonica Alpha • This information has been used to develop a funding proposal that has been sent to Telefonica Alpha via UCL Innovations
Start Year 2017