Leeds key university partner in Rosalind Franklin Institute

A £103 million scheme to develop new technologies and ‘revolutionise’ research and development into biology and medicine has been officially launched

The University of Leeds is one of 11 partners of the £103m Rosalind Frankin Institute, which brings together researchers in life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. 

Funded by the UK government, the Institute will be home to 150 researchers from academia and industry, working with colleagues at all of the partner universities. 

They will harness artificial intelligence, robotics and other systems in a bid to improve understanding of biology and thereby create new diagnostics, drugs and treatments. 

At the heart of the Institute will be new instruments allowing the direct observation of the interactions between drug candidates and target proteins. 

Professor Lisa Roberts, Leeds’ Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, said: “Cutting-edge research is increasingly dependent on collaboration and partnerships; our strategy at Leeds focuses on supporting interdisciplinarity and making a step-change in the way we work with industry. Our partnership with the Rosalind Franklin Institute is a prime example of our overall approach to modern research practices.” 

“This will enable the UK to remain globally competitive in bringing new drugs to the market to meet the needs of patients.” 

Professor Adam Nelson, from Leeds’ Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology and School of Chemistry, is spearheading a project at the Oxfordshire-based Institute, which will pioneer fully-automated facilities to streamline future drug discovery.  

He leads ‘Next Generation Chemistry for Medicine’, one of the institute’s five core research themes.  

At present, new drugs are discovered through a slow and extremely expensive process; it costs around $2 billion to bring each new drug to the market, once the costs of failed drug discovery projects are taken into account. 

Professor Nelson said: “This won’t be a traditional chemistry lab. It will use robotics and artificial intelligence to automate the discovery process, and allow hundreds or thousands of candidate molecules to be investigated at a time; we aim to increase productivity by five to 10 times. 

“But faster processing isn’t enough. We also want to find higher quality starting points for drug discovery to maximise the chances of success at later stages in the pipeline. This will enable the UK to remain globally competitive in bringing new drugs to the market to meet the needs of patients.” 

The namesake of the institute, the pioneering X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, was one of the key figures in the discovery of the structure of DNA, and used a technique with roots in physics and technology to transform life science. 


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