ELRIG (European Laboratory Robotics Interest Group) Drug Discovery 2012

Last week, a few of the Sssex Translational Drug Discovery Group were able to attend ELRIG (European Laboratory Robotics Interest Group) Drug Discovery 2012 held at Manchester GMEX conference center (and this year for once we even got some sunshine).

ELRIG has become the UK’s main Drug Discovery conference. The numbers of delegates attending was about 1200, ranging from big pharma, biotech’s, vendors and other drug discovery groups from academic sector. I found the lectures very interesting, focusing on areas such as biophysical screening, compound management, primary and stem cells, fragment screening and assay development.

If I had to give the conference an overall theme it probably would be, pharma companies encouraging collaborative work with academic groups and also the increasing return to phenotypic based screening. To me this seems to be “knock on” effect from the reduction in research from pharma, with many groups looking to supplement their business models and improve the success rate of finding new compounds that make it to market. I guess from these initiatives it is hoped improvements can be made in areas such as target identification and target validation. From the vendor side of conference it seemed many companies have now launched HCS reader platforms. Another field which seems to have moved on at a pace was 3D cell culture with a lot of different vendors launching these types of products to make  in vitro tissue culture  more representative of in vivo.

Some highlighted lectures for me included:

1.) Dr Edward Ainscow from Novartis discussed, a phenotypic based screen run against three different parasites species with a 650,000 compound file in collaboration with an academic partner, which produced a wide selection of hit material. These were then further triaged via cytotoxic detection assays for further study. This is a good example of pharma offering it facilities and compound files which most academic groups would not access too.

2.) Peter Simpson from Astra Zeneca, highlighted a similar programme which aims to give academic groups access to big screening files – the “IMI European screening factory”(hopefully launching next year).  The remit of this facility is to screen at least 48 screening assay projects (24 from public projects and 24 from pharma projects) in a year. A large number of the compounds in the screening file (about 500,000 compounds) will be donated from the Pharma industry.  The number of HTS run in a year does seem a quite a high target from my experience, given the problem of assay transfer between the small bench top to 1536 well plate HTS (not always seamless to say the least). There are still a lot of issues that remain unclear to me; intellectual property, assay development, reagent costs. but I’ll watch this space keenly as this has a lot of potential for academic groups.


Steve Rees from Astra Zeneca (and the outgoing chairman of ELRIG) gave the closing address, with a good summary of current UK drug discovery and what the future could bring. He highlighted the growth of academic groups such as the SGC (structural genomics consortium) and Dundee Drug Discovery unit which was positive. He did mention that the medical chemistry aspect of the drug discovery process seemed to be less well resourced and that needs addressed for success. I know the last few years have not been great for medical chemists in the UK, but I’m sure it’s nice to hear someone say you’re important!

Overall the ELRIG 2012 was very good meeting.  Everyone who organises this conference (most of them in their spare time) should be applauded for another success. I look forward to ELRIG 2013 in hopefully another sunny Manchester.

Gareth Williams



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