AstraZeneca Relays Future of High Throughput Screening

An interview with health informatics researcher Mark Wigglesworth, Director of High Throughput Screening of AstraZeneca was conducted by April Cashin-Garbutt of News Medical, a website focused on recent innovations on the field of medicine and health informatics research.

The encounter dwelled on the concept of HTS (High Throughput Screening) and how it might affect the future of the pharmaceutical industry.

High throughput screening is the initial process where a target protein is screened and tested for its potential to become targets for drug innovation and delivery. Nearly 2 million compounds are currently in the hands of AstraZeneca for screening. The company uses advanced robotics system to be able to manipulate the compounds, adding necessary reagents and rapidly conducting tests under an established protocol. The process is systematically tracked which enables them to have a high quality complete and organized data. Using state of the art computer systems, these data are analyzed to be able to derive conclusions about the best molecules to be used for further testing.

Health informatics expert Wigglesworth pointed out that the screening process has greatly improved from its state in its origins in the nineties with regard to its speed and accuracy. However, he observed that these improvements do not necessarily translate to higher success rates. This led him and his team to gear towards improving the quality of their output. Although this may entail a bit of sacrifice on the time and cost of production, he stood by his approach to be able to achieve higher quality in their products. He believes that shying away from the use of simpler technologies and facing the complexities of today’s innovative techniques will enable them to better represent diseases. As a result of this, longer time is needed to conduct the screening and less of the compounds were screened during a time frame, but the quality and the success rate of the process is what’s more important, Wigglesworth pointed out.

AstraZeneca also introduced the concept of Open Innovation. This notion revolves around the cooperation of other pharmaceuticals and health informatics research industries with AstraZeneca to be able to produce innovative drugs and compounds which may greatly improve patient care.

Through the years, the Pharmaceutical industry has been highly competitive and protective of their innovations and intellectual properties due to the apprehension of losing their advantage over their competitors. Open Innovation changes this approach and offers a positive alternative, if not permanent replacement to competition.

Through this concept, corporate assets and infrastructures such as the High Throughput Screening technology can be accessed by different health informatics study and research groups including researchers from other pharmaceuticals to conduct their own experiments and observations. They would also have access to the large compound library of the company and be able to work side by side with the company’s own scientists and consultants. The only limitation of this collaboration is that the company retains the right to the commercialization of the products or compounds developed and discovered under their structures.

The collaboration will initially run for a period of 5 years, opening its doors to academic researchers who will have the opportunity to access the company’s collection of over two million molecules and compounds for their research endeavors, including the opportunity to use the state-of-the-art High Throughput Screening in its soon to rise site in Cambridge Biomedical Campus, due to be completed in 2016.

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