Polymer Membranes Can Improve New Drug Discovery

16 November 2012

Researchers at Singapore’s A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) have developed a remarkable new technology which promises to speed up the process of discovering vital new therapeutic drugs.

The inventors, Dr. Madhavan Nallani and his team, were recently recognised by the last Asian innovation Awards, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong, where host and former UK Prime Minister, Sir John Major, discussed the huge potential benefits of the invention with Dr. Nallani.

The invention allows polymers to be formed into structures that mimic natural cell membranes, and into which proteins can be inserted to represent the proteins found on real cells. This artificial system can be used as a very sophisticated laboratory model to understand how drugs interact with human cells in diseases such as Diabetes, Cancer or Parkinson’s Disease.

The process that is generally used by the pharmaceutical industry for finding and developing new drugs, uses real cells that are grown up in large-scale cell cultures, which are engineered to produce a new proteins on their membranes, to represent key elements that may be affected in a human disease condition. These proteins are called ‘receptors’. The cells are then exposed to large numbers of potential drugs to work out which ones stick to the ‘receptor’ and therefore could affect the human disease. By using this screening process, pharmaceutical companies hope to find the needle in the haystack, and develop these drugs into new medicines.

The problems with this approach are that engineering and producing large batches of cells is a lengthy process, and real cells also have a lot of their own natural receptors that can confuse the screening process. The IMRE artificial cell membranes are easier and cheaper to produce than real cells, so using this innovation, drug screening can be performed more quickly and cheaply than before, with the removal of background ‘noise’ caused by the myriad of other receptors found on real cells.

The team in Singapore are now developing the technology for commercial application, and expect to spin this out into a new business very soon. Impact Science have been engaged to manage the transition from the research laboratory to a commercial business, which will offer improved drug screening services to the global pharmaceutical industry.

Rhys Roberts of Impact Science said: “this is a very promising new technology that will be a game-changer in the drug discovery services market. We have been working with Dr. Nallani and his team for more than 2 years and together we have built firm foundations for a valuable new business”.

For further information, contact Dr Rhys Roberts on +44 151 795 4100.