Drug discovery is so rapidly driven by innovation that in the space of a few years we have seen dramatic changes in the field (e.g., CRISPR genome editing and machine learning). As innovative technologies and novel approaches continue to emerge alongside a flourishing collaborative culture, it is exciting to think how drug discovery will develop in the next five years. For a first-hand glimpse into what the future may hold, register for your free place at Drug Discovery 2017 now.

Below we highlight some intriguing possibilities for the future of drug discovery research as we caught up with Thomas Edmonds, Laboratory Manager of the Oncology Research & Development Unit of the Servier Research Institute in Croissy-sur-Seine, France.

Read on to find out Thomas’ own predictions on how innovation, collaboration, and growing scientific expertise, will together shape the future of drug discovery.

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How will novel technologies change bench research?

As exciting innovations in drug discovery continue, we will undoubtedly see advanced technologies becoming commonplace in research labs over the next few years. Thomas believes that one such technology will be artificial intelligence, which he says is likely to become integrated into most robotic platforms in the lab. “The next generation of robots will not only be able to send alerts to users, but will very probably manage the scheduling and issues of laboratory processing without needing an operator,” he predicts.

Thomas is excited about how automation and Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) could enhance research scientists’ approach to drug discovery. “Automation and LIMS will reduce repetitive lab work and allow scientists to develop the creativity we need to generate high quality assays – just look at how crazy chemistry has allowed us to make some major discoveries over the past century!” he says.

He also believes that this automation will boost research capabilities via the sharing of resources and knowledge among the global drug discovery community to advance therapeutic innovation. “I have one example in my mind of a major company that built a network for robotic platforms worldwide, enabling them to manage user profiles, robotic configurations, and data storage between international sites,” he remarks.

Thomas also notes that technologies will increasingly merge together to enhance capabilities in the lab. “I believe we will have access to more cross-technology equipment in the future. Look at how we have seen the capabilities of fluorescence-based flow cytometry be extended by mass spectrometry,” he adds.

Labs are also likely to benefit from a host of novel technologies on the brink of emergence in numerous fields. Given the vast array of innovations in biologics over the last five years, Thomas expects that technologies in this field in particular, will expand exponentially over the next five years.

How will a collaborative culture continue to be fostered?

In recent years, there has been a marked shift towards pursuing more transparency and greater collaboration in drug discovery research. Industry and academic scientists are increasingly undertaking cross-sector and interdisciplinary projects to enhance research by maximising diverse technologies and expertise.

As an industry scientist working for a medium-sized pharma company, Thomas frequently sees evidence of this more open attitude. “I am always amazed by the enthusiasm in collaborative meetings with larger pharma companies,” he remarks.

As such, he believes that this collaborative culture will only continue to be nurtured by the drug discovery community as a whole. “Industrial companies cannot be innovative on their own,” he says. “Already we are seeing many publications involving pharma-academic-biotech collaborations, some of which have explored unexpected therapeutic innovations, leading to a completely new world of discoveries.”

He predicts that this changing attitude will increase the number of collaborative initiatives in the future, such as the Innovative Medicines Initiative of the EFPIA and the European Commission. An increasing number of new funding schemes will also be offered to promote cross-sector collaboration.

These and other collaborative opportunities will be revealed in vendor-led workshops and top-quality talks at the upcoming Drug Discovery 2017 meeting. With over a thousand delegates from academia and industry, there will also be many opportunities to discuss future collaborative projects with experts outside your own research field.

How will we overcome the challenges facing drug discovery?

Thomas is focused on the primary aim: to uncover new therapeutic drugs or biologics for the benefit of patients, one step at a time. “No matter what resources and equipment we have in the future, I will consider each step towards our aim as an achievement, from clarifying basic mechanistic understandings to finding a new drug that helps patients,” he says.

He believes that whatever challenges arise in the future, scientists will be able to use their passion and skills to overcome them. “Almost 90 years ago, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accident, because of a messy lab bench,” he remarks. “Less than a century later, scientists are reprogramming T-cells to fight cancer, which was almost as unexpected as Fleming’s discovery!”

He has a few words of warning, however. One concern is that, because innovative technologies are expensive, it may be difficult to continually invest in high quality equipment in labs and maintain investment budgets within a reasonable range. “One solution is to share novel technologies between researchers, as well as getting help from experts by externalising studies,” he remarks.

He also warns that disease relapse and the pressure to find cost-effective drugs and maintain the sustainability of research organisations, are some of the challenges that pharmaceutical research will face in the future. “We need network exchanges, collaborative working, consortiums, and partnerships to overcome these challenges,” he says. “ELRIG’s Drug Discovery 2017 meeting can help with this by making research effective and inspiring drug discovery researchers to be passionate about their mission.”

If you want to learn more about how cutting-edge technologies and the latest research could transform drug discovery as we know it, then make sure you’re at Drug Discovery 2017 in Liverpool on 3rd – 4th October!

Register free for Drug Discovery 2017

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