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SCIENCETODAY

BIO

ISSUE20

women in science • vaccines innovation • covid-19 • drug delivery • bioprocessing • aged research & innovation


Improving Implant Performance

Advanced, independent explant analysis to inform implant development and improve patient safety

Engineering Analysis Advanced Genetics Artificial Intelligence www.explantlab.com


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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| welcome |

foreword Helen Compson Editor in chief

Editor Helen Compson helen.compson@distinctivegroup.co.uk

Design Distinctive Publishing, 3rd Floor, Tru Knit House, 9-11 Carliol Square, Newcastle, NE1 6UF Tel: 0191 580 5990 www.distinctivepublishing.co.uk

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HUMANKIND WILL BENEFIT FROM THE HERCULEAN TASKS ASSUMED BY THE UK Announcing the means of ramping up the UK’s response to Covid, Business Secretary Alok Sharma went straight to the heart of the matter when he said: “As the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine, the UK is leading the global response. “Once a breakthrough is made, we need to be ready to manufacture a vaccine by the millions.” Ultimately, the ‘means’ will be the new, multi-million pound Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre currently taking shape in Harwell, Oxfordshire, and due to open in 2021. However, Mr Sharma’s comments, in May, were made as he broadcast the Government’s backing for ‘Virtual VMIC’, the interim vehicle that allows the VMIC team to get on the road. In this issue, its chief executive Dr Matthew Duchars tells Bioscience Today just what this world-class enterprise will mean to the UK. Meanwhile, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA), based on the £350m Newcastle Helix science park, is faced with an equally Herculean task – to endow all of us with an extra five years of healthy, happy life.

Distinctive Publishing or BioScience Today cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies that may occur, individual products or services advertised or late entries. No part of this publication may be reproduced or scanned without prior written permission of the publishers and BioScience Today.

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The man poached from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology to lead the charge, Prof. Nic Palmarini, said that while it was “one of the mega-challenges we have on the planet today”, it also presented a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the nation. Here he tells us about NICA’s first projects off the blocks and the 8000-strong team of citizens helping to guide the centre’s direction of travel. And, we take a peek behind the scenes of Teesside University’s £22m National Horizons Centre with Associate Director Dr Safwan Akram. A pivotal link between industry and academia, NHC opened last September determined to drive research into bioprocessing, that oft overlooked mechanism by which life science discoveries are turned into products, processes and systems that benefit humankind and national economies alike.


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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

features

Opening new pathways for bioprocessing

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18 The road less travelled: Women are finally coming into their own in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths Uk strides into international arena of vaccine development

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| contents |

contents / www.biosciencetoday.co.uk / issue 20 /

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Foreword

4-5

Contents

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Industry Contributors

7-9

News

10-13

women in science In this, the first in a three-part series, HELEN COMPSON talks to Dr Shaheda Ahmed, of Alcyomics Ltd about the role of Women in Science.

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18-23

vaccines innovation As Oxford University and Imperial College London move into poll position in the race to develop an anti-Covid vaccine, the UK’s first dedicated Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre is preparing to turn their results into millions of doses to be distributed across the world.

24-25

storage and logistics Customer service is at the heart of this bio business.

27-31

covid-19 How a Novel drug discovery technology could help in the fight against COVID-19.

Call to address lack of patient diversity in research.

Johns Hopkins experts publish guidebook for blood plasma therapy.

Helping pharmaceutical companies resume operations postcovid-19.

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intellectual property Access to Intellectual Property (IP) Rights in a Time of Emergency – Patent Pools and Beyond.

36-37

drug delivery Taking dermal treatments to millions of patients.

40-41

bioprocessing Opening new pathways for bioprocessing.

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aged research & innovation Team tasked with giving us five extra years of health and happiness.

Team tasked with giving us five extra years of health and happiness

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| industry contributors |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

Alex Bone Patent Attorney, Partner, AA Thornton

Dr Shaheda Ahmed Scientific Manager at Alcyomics

Alex is a UK and European qualified patent attorney with extensive experience in identifying and protecting innovations, and has spent many years working in-house in the medical device and diagnostic field. Through his work with big corporates and multinationals Alex is able to bring a wealth of knowledge to his work with SMEs and start-ups to provide leading strategic IP advice.

Senior scientist – experience in working for and widely contributing to the growth and expansion of a start up life sciences biotech company. Experience is extended from research skills to a large range of diverse skills including business development. I am inherently proactive, organised and highly disciplined in performing research with strong work ethics. My current position has furthered my development in business skills, leadership and management skills, strong networking skills, experience in developing contacts, meeting potential clients and developing future collaborators.

Sonia Houghton CEO Cryoniss

Dr Anne Lane CEO, UCL Business

Sonia is the CEO of Cryoniss, a contract service organisation providing next day delivery of qualified cell lines to global research institutions, pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Cryoniss is able to offer holistic support to customers including the acquisition of quality, ethically and legally sourced reagents, regulatory support, endto-end premium logistics management solutions and coordination of quality control testing of mammalian cell line reagents.

Anne has a PhD in medicine from UCL and an Executive MBA from Molson Business School, Montreal. After research at UCL and Harvard Medical School, Anne worked for RTP Pharma Inc in Montreal, out-licensing and preparing valuations of the company’s portfolio for public listing. Anne joined UCL Ventures in 2000 and acted as consultant for the National Transfer Centre in the US. She is now CEO of UCLB, acts as Director and interim CEO on several of UCLB’s spinout companies and oversees the company’s licensing activity. Anne is also a member of the Licensing Executives Society (LES) and is on the committee for the Intellectual Property Lawyers Organisation (TIPLO).

Nicola Palmarini Director at UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing I am the Director of UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) a world-leading organisation, created with a £40 million investment from UK Government and Newcastle University, to help create a world in which we all live better, for longer. Before I was the AI Ethics Lead at MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and Aging & Longevity SME in IBM Research in Cambridge (USA) more recently I served as head of digital strategy the fintech startup Tinaba.com. From 2006 to 2014 I was Director of IBM Human Centric Solution Center where I developed my experience in emerging technologies for aging people and persons with disabilities.

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| news |

‘Directing’ evolution to identify potential drugs earlier in discovery Scientists have developed a technique that could significantly reduce the time to discover potential new antibody-based drugs to treat disease. Antibodies are produced by the body in response to the presence of a disease-causing agent. They can also be synthesised in the laboratory to mimic natural antibodies and are used to treat a number of diseases.

and the antibiotic will kill the bacteria. But if the protein chain is more stable, the bacteria thrives and will display antimicrobial resistance and will grow in the presence of the antibiotic.

Antibody therapies can be highly effective, but challenges can arise when promising candidate antibodies are produced at a large scale. Stresses encountered during manufacturing can disrupt the structure of these fragile proteins leading to aggregation and loss of activity. This in turn prevents them from being made into a therapeutic.

The scientists harvest the bacteria that have survived and identify the cloned protein sequence. That indicates which protein sequences to take forward in the development pipeline. The whole cycle takes about a month and increases the chances of success.

New research from an eight-year collaboration between scientists at the University of Leeds and the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has resulted in a technique that allows fragments of antibodies to be screened for susceptibility to aggregation caused by structure disruption much earlier in the drug discovery process. The approach is was published in the journal Nature Communications. Dr David Brockwell, Associate Professor in the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, led the research. He said: “Antibody therapeutics have revolutionised medicine. They can be designed to bind to almost any target and are highly specific.

DIRECTED EVOLUTION But the process can go a step further, using the idea of directed evolution. Scientists use the idea of natural selection where mutations or changes take place in the proteins, sometimes making them more stable. Directed evolution could generate new better performing sequences that, at the current time, cannot even be imagined, let alone designed and manufactured. How does this method work? Like Darwin’s natural selection, evolutionary pressure in this case is applied by the antibiotic and selects for the survival of bacteria that produce the protein variants that do not aggregate. The protein sequences hosted in the bacterial cells that have shown resistance are harvested and their genes sequenced and scored, to select the best performing sequences. After a quick check to ensure that the new antibody sequences still retain their excellent binding capability for the original disease-causing target, they can be taken forward for further development.

“But a significant problem has been the failure rate of candidates upon manufacturing at industrial scale. This often only emerges at a very late stage in the development process – these drugs are failing at the last hurdle. “But our research is turning that problem on its head.” Professor Sheena Radford, FRS, Director of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, said: “The collaboration that has existed between the team of scientists within the University of Leeds and AstraZeneca demonstrates the power of industry and academia working together to tackle what has been one of the major roadblocks preventing the efficient and rapid development of these powerful therapeutic molecules.”

HOW THE TARGET PROTEINS ARE SCREENED The target proteins are cloned into the centre of an enzyme that breaks down antibiotics in the bacterium E.coli. This enables the scientists to directly link antibiotic resistance of the bacteria to how aggregation-prone the antibody fragment is. A simple readout - bacterial growth on an agar plate containing antibiotic – gives an indication of whether the target protein will survive the manufacturing process. If the antibody proteins are susceptible to stress, they will unfold or clump together, become inactive,

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Professor Radford said: “There is tremendous excitement about this approach. We are letting evolutionary selection change the sequence of the proteins for us and that might make some of them more useful as drug therapies. Importantly for industry, nature does the hard-work – obviating the need for so called rational engineering which is time- and resource-intensive. Dr David Lowe, who led the work at AstraZeneca, said: “The screening system that we have developed here is a great example of industry and academia working together to solve important challenges in the development of potential new medicines. “By combining AstraZeneca’s antibody discovery and screening expertise, together with the Astbury Centre’s world-leading knowledge of protein structure and aggregation, we have produced a high throughput method for rapidly evolving proteins with better biophysical properties that has the potential for wide scientific applicability.” The research was funded by AstraZeneca, Innovate UK the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.


| news |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

Sellafield research uncovers microbial life in fuel ponds Two new research papers from The University of Manchester, working with colleagues at Sellafield Limited and the National Nuclear Laboratory show that microbes can actively colonise some of the most intensively radioactive waste storage sites in Europe.

A paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment used DNA sequencing tools to identify the microbes growing in the FGMSP and identified those that form dense blooms in the facility, similar to those observed in natural environments such as ponds and the sea. A key and often overlooked cyanobacterium Pseudanabaena catenata was identified as a key pioneer species in this unusual high pH and radioactive environment.

When nuclear facilities such as Sellafield were designed and built more than 50 years ago, it was sensible to assume that the conditions in the pond would prevent microbial life from taking hold, but now new research shows that this is not the case.

Dr Lynn Foster, who led the research said: “By limiting the proliferation of microorganisms on the Sellafield site we are helping to keep decommissioning programmes on schedule and within budget. In addition, further laboratory experiments are ongoing in order to better understand the adaptive mechanisms of these fascinating “extremophile” organisms that are native to these highly unusual engineered pond systems.”

The growth of microbial life in nuclear facilities can cause uncertainty or problems. Understanding how microbial life can inhabit environments such as fuel storage ponds is vital to progress nuclear decommissioning work such as at Sellafield. Microbes are a group of organisms that, including bacteria and algae, are known to inhabit a wide range of habitats on Earth. Improvements in detection technology in recent years has allowed microorganisms to be detected in environments previously thought to be inhospitable to life. It is now becoming clear that some microorganisms are capable of withstanding surprisingly high doses of radiation, at levels significantly greater than seen in natural environments. In these two new studies, a team of geomicrobiologists based in The University of Manchester’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, studied microbes that can potentially cause ‘summer blooms’ in a large outdoor spent nuclear fuel storage pond at the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria, the largest nuclear regulated site in the UK. Blooms reduce visibility, disrupt fuel retrieval and slow decommissioning. Prof Jonathan Lloyd said: “Our research focused on Sellafield’s First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP), which is a legacy pond that has both significant levels of radioactivity in conjunction with a highly alkaline pH (11.4), equivalent to domestic bleach. “The ultimate aim of this work was to identify the microbes that can tolerate such an inhospitable environment, understand how they tolerate high radiation levels, and help site operators control their growth. The growth of the microorganisms in the FGMSP inhibits the operations in the pond, which is currently a priority for decommissioning. “

By developing a better understanding of the capabilities of these microorganisms, the authors also hope that organisms that are able to help clean up contaminated environments can be identified. In a companion paper published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the team investigated the response of this cyanobacterium to ionizing radiation at high pH. A representative dose of radiation was delivered to this organism under laboratory conditions and the response was monitored. The results showed that this cyanobacterium produces a slime-like polysaccharide protective material in response to radiation shock (a common defence response for microbes), and the production of this material is of interest since it could interact with the radionuclides in the pond, and/or allow these microorganism to attach to surfaces within the pond. The build-up of microorganisms and polymeric substances in the FGMSP could be problematic to decommissioning efforts. However, the results from these recent studies also showed that the abundance of the microorganisms in the FGMSP could be effectively controlled by purging the pond with alkaline dosed water at regular intervals. The pond water purge successfully flushes out the microorganisms which allows routine plant operations to continue. Further work is ongoing to look at other facilities on the Sellafield site and provide support to help with control measures to reduce the growth of these and other organisms.

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| news |

Switching on a key gene could provide first curative treatment for heart disease Researchers trying to turn off a gene that allows cancers to spread have made a surprising U-turn. By making the gene overactive and functional in the hearts of mice, they have triggered heart cell regeneration. Since adult hearts cannot usually repair themselves once damaged, harnessing the power of this gene represents major progress towards the first curative treatment for heart disease. “This is really exciting because scientists have been trying to make heart cells proliferate for a long time. None of the current heart disease treatments are able to reverse degeneration of the heart tissue – they only slow progression of the disease. Now we’ve found a way to do it in a mouse model,” said Dr Catherine Wilson, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Pharmacology, who led the study. The cell cycle - through which cells make copies of themselves - is tightly controlled in mammalian cells. Cancer develops when cells start to replicate themselves uncontrollably, and the Myc gene plays a key role in the process. Myc is known to be overactive in the vast majority of cancers, so targeting this gene is one of the highest priorities in cancer research. Much recent research has focused on trying to take control of Myc as a means of cancer therapy. When the researchers made Myc overactive in a mouse model, they saw its cancerous effects in organs including the liver and lungs: huge amount of cells started replicating over the course of a few days. But in the heart, nothing much happened. They found that Myc-driven activity in heart muscle cells is critically dependent on the level of another protein called Cyclin T1, made by a gene called Ccnt1, within the cells. When the Ccnt1 and Myc genes are expressed together, the heart switches into a regenerative state and its cells start to replicate. The results have been published in the journal Nature Communications. “When these two genes were overexpressed together in the heart muscle cells of adult mice we saw extensive cell replication, leading to a large increase in the number of heart muscle cells,” said Wilson. Heart failure affects around 23 million people worldwide each year, and there is currently no cure. After a heart

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attack, an adult human heart can lose up to one billion heart muscle cells - called cardiomyocytes. Unlike many other organs in the body, the adult heart can’t regenerate itself, so these cells are never replaced. Their loss reduces the strength of the heart and causes scar formation, heart failure and ultimately death. Using a next generation sequencing technology called ChIP, the researchers were able to watch the action of Myc in the heart cells. Myc produces a protein - called a transcription factor - that binds to the DNA in specific cells and activates gene expression. But despite the protein binding successfully, the heart cells didn’t start to replicate themselves because the protein could not activate gene expression. Another protein vital to gene expression, Cyclin T1, was deficient in the heart. Adding it to the cells with the overactive Myc caused the cells to start proliferating. “None of the current treatment options can reverse the degeneration of heart tissue. The inability of the heart to regenerate itself is a significant unmet clinical need,” said Wilson. “We found that even when Myc is switched on in a heart, the other tools aren’t there to make it work, which may be one of the reasons heart cancer is so extremely rare. Now we know what’s missing, we can add it and make the cells replicate.” As the world’s population grows and the prevalence of heart failure increases, the cost of patient care is anticipated to increase dramatically. The researchers hope to develop their finding into a genetic therapy for the treatment of heart disease. “We want to use short-term, switchable technologies to turn on Myc and Cyclin T1 in the heart. That way we won’t leave any genetic footprint that might inadvertently lead to cancer formation,” said Wilson. This research was funded by Cancer Research UK.


| women in science |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED A Women in Science event that took place in Newcastle upon Tyne’s Biosphere business incubator earlier this year certainly demonstrated that women are finally coming into their own in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths. In this, the first in a three-part series, HELEN COMPSON talks to one of those present, Dr Shaheda Ahmed, of Alcyomics Ltd.

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| women in science |

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| women in science |

T

he devastating diagnosis meted out to the second of her three children changed the course of Shaheda Ahmed’s life.

Before motherhood, she worked in business and finance, but the arrival of a very poorly Zaid proved to be the fulcrum by which the balance tipped in favour of a new career, as a research scientist. It was eight months before medics could finally put a name to the condition that was taking her new-born son in and out of hospital - 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. A disorder caused by the absence of a small piece of chromosome 22, the deletion occurs near the middle of the chromosome at a location designated q11.2. And as she was to learn, it can bring with it a whole host of problems, among them recurrent infections due to a weak immune system, facial deformity, speech and learning difficulties and autism spectrum disorder. She counts her blessings though that Zaid, who is now 24, escaped the congenital heart abnormalities that can also be a symptom. Today, she is Doctor Shaheda Ahmed, scientific manager for Alcyomics Ltd, a Newcastle University spinout company founded by Prof. Anne Dickinson. The latter is the expert in immunobiology who developed human skin-based in vitro assays for predicting clinical responses prior to clinical trials. The ability to do so greatly reduces the risk of there being a repeat of the disastrous outcome of the infamous TGN1412 drug trial, carried out by US company Parexel in a private clinic at London’s Northwick Park Hospital in 2006. Then, in what was christened by the press ‘the Elephant Man trial’, six healthy young men ended up in intensive care after suffering catastrophic immune responses and multiple organ failure – one with his head double the normal size. Parexel hoped TGN1412, a drug that manipulated the immune system, could be a treatment for leukaemia and rheumatoid arthritis. The men’s reactions to the drug were caused by a “cytokine storm”, in which the body releases too many of the immune system regulating cytokines into the bloodstream at once. The Skimune® test developed by Prof. Dickinson and her team can not only predict whether a drug is likely to cause an adverse event or drug hypersensitivity reaction, their published data (* see addendum below) also conveys how the frequency of positive tests in Skimune® directly correlates with frequency of drug hypersensitivity reactions observed in the clinic. The data, therefore, can inform risk profiles by giving an indication if the test drug is likely to cause a rare, uncommon, common or frequent drug hypersensitivity reaction - invaluable information, of course, for drug developers. Dr Ahmed said: “Drug companies send us the compound they are developing and we test it in-house. “If it has the capacity to activate the human immune system, they can go back and either modify the formula

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

by removing peptides or eliminate the candidate drug altogether, preventing ‘late failure’. “It can take 12 to 14 years and millions to billions of pounds to get a drug to market, clinical trials are very costly and often at this point they could be rejected because of a bad reaction with the human immune system. “By using our tests, they get a very early indication of any adverse effects, before they have spent all that time and money in clinical trials and members of the public have been exposed to substances adversely.” Nowadays, Dr Ahmed’s working environment is shaped by cell and molecular biology and human skin explant assay – a far cry from her years working for the Post Office and a bank. It has been quite a journey. Zaid was four and just starting nursery when she took the plunge. “I was completely driven by his condition, which is known as DiGeorge Syndrome,” she said “I wanted to know what caused it, what sort of research was going on in this area and how I could get into the field myself.” Because she had been out of education for a while, her point of return was a Higher Education Certificate and courses in human biology, ecology and chemistry. That involved attending three-hour-long classes three nights a week, and all while she had three children under the age of six. “It was hard work, but it was refreshing,” she said. “I felt like I had my own space and I could talk to other people outside the home.” But thank goodness she’d had the support of her husband and family throughout, she said, because she had met with precious little understanding or support for working mothers externally along the way. “You tend to find most women in this field don’t have or delay having children, because they don’t want it to impact on their careers,” she said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to make that choice.” Intent on studying genetics, she enrolled on a biology degree course at Newcastle University. “Unfortunately I found out during the first year, when you get to do taster modules, that I wasn’t very good at genetics,” she said wryly. “I was much stronger at biochemistry. “I did want to understand my son’s condition more thoroughly though, so I did a degree in molecular biology, a combination of biochemistry, genetics and cell biology.” She also spent time on researching her options postgraduation and was disappointed to learn that the nearest centre for research into DiGeorge Syndrome was in France. Moving the whole family wasn’t an option. “So I started to look into other diseases, because at the end of the day, whatever field in scientific research you work in, you are contributing to maintaining people’s health,” she said. In 2003, she got a post at Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing and Health, studying for her PhD in oxidative stress and the impact on ageing.

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| women in science |

Dr. Shaheda Ahmed

“I was completely driven by his condition, which is known as DiGeorge Syndrome. I wanted to know what caused it, what sort of research was going on in this area and how I could get into the field myself.” She laughed. “I realised I was a lab creature – I enjoyed the work there and just being in a lab.” While she was indeed doing bench research that would ultimately benefit society in the long run, that wasn’t enough, she felt. “I wanted to focus on translational medicine, with a quick impact.” So she moved on, to the academic haematology department at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, led at the time by Prof. Anne Dickinson. When Dr Ahmed gives talks to life sciences students today, helping to define some of the options and choices that lie ahead of them, it does give her pause for thought. “I have had an unusually fast-paced career,” she said. “I think that’s just as a result of the opportunities that presented themselves and the choices I’ve made”.

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“But when I give career talks to younger scientists, I realise I progressed from being a post-doc to scientific officer to senior scientific officer and then manager all in 10 years. “I do temper expectations, because I know it isn’t that common.”

*Ahmed SS, Whritenour J, Ahmed M M, Bibby L, Darby L, Wang X N, Watson J, Dickinson A M. Evaluation of a human in vitro skin test for predicting drug hypersensitivity reactions. Toxcicology and Aplied Pharmacology. 2019, 369, 39-48 *Ahmed, SS., Wang, X N., Fielding, M., Kerry, A., Dickinson, I., Munuswamy, R., Kimber, I., and Dickinson, AM. An in vitro human skin test for assessing sensitization potential. J. Appl. Toxicol. 2016, 36(5), 669-684


| innovation |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

Image © James Tye, UCL

DRIVING INNOVATION As one of the leading technology transfer companies, UCLB’s mission is to benefit both the economy and society as a whole by commercialising the discoveries and developments that come out of UCL. The ‘B’ stands for business and it has linked the university’s research to market opportunities for nearly 30 years. For UCL’s many innovators, UCLB provides the whole gamut of services from intellectual property protection and patent registration through to the licensing and sale of technologies to industry partners. In between, it also supports the creation of new businesses, doing anything and everything from sourcing funding, building teams, finding workspace and providing the introduction to development partners outside of UCL. The majority of its spinout companies – in a portfolio currently worth circa £270m - are enabling the next wave of technology-based businesses to thrive in a fast-moving ecosystem to tackle global challenges in the fields of biomedicine, biotechnology, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences and the built environment. Chief executive Dr Anne Lane said: “UCL’s research strengths are in biomedicine in particular and UCLB has commercialised those activities for the past 30 years to great effect.

“We have raised significant amounts of external investment and created around 500 jobs through our top five best performing companies alone. “At the moment, our most successful area of enterprise is cell and gene therapy and four of our top five spinouts work in that field.” Three of those gene therapy spinouts - Autolus, Orchard Therapeutics and MeiraGTx – have been listed on NASDAQ, the American stock exchange. However, success for many enterprises can be measured in social-gain rather than pounds or dollars. Take one of UCL’s latest initiatives, the UCL-Ventura breathing aid, for example, and the ‘continuous pressure airways device’ the team behind it has designed. Dr Lane said: “This device keeps patients out of intensive care and off ventilators, which are the last resort if you have COVID-19.

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| innovation |

Another recent development has also come into its own during COVID-19 - a magnetic tracer, produced by spinout company Endomag. It minimises the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during breast cancer surgery, thereby reducing the impact of the operation, recovery time and the length of stay required in hospital. “That particular device is being provided to the NHS free of charge to ensure breast cancer treatment can continue even during COVID-19,” she said. UCLB works closely with its partner hospitals – the UCLH, the Royal Free Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital – ties that are strengthened by the work carried out by UCL’s Biomedical Research Centres (BRC’s).

Dr Anne Lane

“UCL’s research strengths are in biomedicine in particular and UCLB has commercialised those activities for the past 30 years to great effect. We have raised significant amounts of external investment and created around 500 jobs through our top five best performing companies alone.” “It was reverse engineered from an existing face mask by UCL along with members of the Mercedes F1 team. “There’s no Formula One this season and their resources were not being used, so they quickly pivoted, to collaborate and develop these breathing aids. “The UCL-Ventura device has been delivered to 46 NHS trusts so far and on top of that, the design is now available on a UCL platform, free of charge, and accessible to countries all over the world.” UCL and UCLB had helped to ensure the right legal arrangements were in the licence and that the university was protected. “It is a medical device, after all,” she said. “But it is now a globally accessible technology via our e-lucid platform.”

Magseed needle system

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Those centres are funded by the Department for Health via its National Institute for Health Research grants. The UCL, UCLH, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital most recent BRC’s awards were in excess of £130 million in total, spanning over 5 years. The two main teams among UCLB’s 50 or so members of staff are responsible, on the one hand, for biomedical enterprises and on the other, physical science and engineering. Dr Lane said: “Our managers are each responsible for maintaining a close relationship with certain departments or institutes within the university, so they can identify anything of possible development potential and also, conversely, so researchers know to come to us when they have an idea. “More often than not though, researchers themselves spot something that has commercial potential.” Beyond biomedicine, UCLB is developing opportunities from across the multi-disciplinary research base at UCL. Recent successes have included spinout companies such as Senceive which provides wireless condition monitoring of railway assets, Bramble Energy which is developing low cost fuel cell technology and finally a collaboration with the Slade School of Fine Arts and the Coal Authority which has led to the development a range of paints produced from coal mine waste. www.e-lucid.com


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anti-cancer compound discovered in the humble willow More than a century after giving the world aspirin, another potential drug has been found in the stem and leaves of willows – this time with anti-cancer properties.

Scientists led from Rothamsted Research, working with cancer biologists at the University of Kent have discovered the chemical, miyabeacin, which has been found to kill various cancer cells, including those resistant to other drugs. Of particular excitement is its activity against neuroblastoma, a hard to treat and common childhood cancer where the overall survival rate is below 50%. In laboratory tests, miyabeacin was also found to be effective against several breast, throat and ovarian cancer cell lines. Rothamsted’s Prof Mike Beale, a co-leader of the study said whilst the pharmaceutical activity of salicin, the active ingredient in aspirin, is well known, the pharmacological properties of miyabeacin are potentially even greater. “With resistance to treatment being a significant issue in cancers such as neuroblastoma, new drugs with novel modes of action are required and miyabeacin perhaps offers a new opportunity in this respect. “Structurally, it contains two salicin groups that give it a potential ‘double dose’ of anti-inflammatory and anti-blood clotting ability that we associate with aspirin. “However, our results reporting the activity of miyabeacin against a number of cancer cell lines, including cell lines with acquired drug resistance, adds further evidence for the multi-faceted pharmacology of willow.” After brain cancers, neuroblastoma is the most frequent solid tumour seen in the under-fives.

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The team tested miyabeacin against a range of cancer cell lines. Initial cell viability assays were carried out on a neuroblastoma cell line established from a stage 4 neuroblastoma patient, and a drug resistant sub-line. Professor Beale says the next steps are to scale up production of miyabeacin from farmed willow and provide more material for further medical testing. The use of willow bark in medicine was recorded by ancient Greek, Assyrian and Egyptian civilisations, but the first scientifically reported investigation of willow as a remedy for fever was in 1763. In 1897 the Bayer Company produced the synthetic analogue, aspirin (acetylsalicylate), one of the earliest and most successful nature-inspired drugs. Rothamsted Research is home to the UK’s National Willow Collection, and in conjunction with the Institute’s established expertise in analytical chemistry, Dr Jane Ward, a co-leader of the study, puts the cancer breakthrough down to having 1500 willow species and hybrids available to screen with state of the art techniques. “Possibly because of the success of aspirin, medicinal assessment of other salicinoids in willow has been mostly neglected by modern science, and the National Willow Collection has proven to be a gold-mine of exciting new chemistry, that perhaps underlies its position in ancient therapies,” she said.


| vaccines innovation |

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| vaccines innovation |

UK STRIDES INTO INTERNATIONAL ARENA OF VACCINE DEVELOPMENT As Oxford University and Imperial College London move into poll position in the race to develop an anti-Covid vaccine, the UK’s first dedicated Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre is preparing to turn their results into millions of doses to be distributed across the world, HELEN COMPSON reports.

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| vaccines innovation |

VMIC was already in the offing well before the outbreak of this pandemic, the need for both innovative vaccine manufacturing processes and a beefed up emergency response capability in the face of emerging infectious diseases having long since been recognised. The building work on its 7,000m2 state-of-the-art headquarters on Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire began in April, funded by a £65m grant from UK Research and Innovation, part and parcel of the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. But when Covid broke, the Government awarded another £131m to VMIC - £93m of it to fast track the build and expand the production capabilities at Harwell. The manufacturing capacity has now been ramped up so that 70million vaccine doses can be produced within four to six months of its planned opening in 2021, a twenty-fold increase on the original figure. The other £38m was awarded for the immediate creation of ‘Virtual VMIC’, a temporary vehicle that has allowed the man at the wheel, Dr Matthew Duchars, to get on the road setting up the collaborative partnerships, hiring the skilled staff and renting the temporary laboratories it needs while the building at Harwell goes on. Announcing the launch of Virtual VMIC in May, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “As the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine, the UK is leading the global response. “Once a breakthrough is made, we need to be ready to manufacture a vaccine by the millions.” In an interview with Bioscience Today, VMIC chief executive Dr Matthew Duchars praised the Government’s approach

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to improving the UK’s EID response capability generally and, specifically, for granting a funding package of £42.3m to cover Oxford University and Imperial College London’s clinical trials. “Funding both is quite sensible,” he said, “because you need several horses in the race. We now have two front-runner vaccines that are going down different routes and using different technologies, but ultimately answering the same problem. “You need to have multiple vaccine candidates that are all being progressed simultaneously to give us more shots at the goal of producing a vaccine that is appropriate and safe to use.” The science behind the two main contenders hinges on recreating the ‘spike’ proteins found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Both are attempting to mimic the effect of these spike proteins, the means by which the virus attaches itself to and enters healthy cells. The difference between them though is how they will achieve this. ICL’s vaccine is based on ribonucleic acid (RNA) which, when injected, will deliver the genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the spike protein. Meanwhile Oxford University, working in tandem with AstraZeneca, is using an adenovirus - the type of virus that causes the common cold – taken from chimpanzees and genetically modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. Its vaccine AZD1222 (originally called ChAdOx1 nCov-19), actually contains the genetic material used to make the spike proteins.

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| vaccines innovation |

“VMIC has been asked by the Government to look at ways of bringing forward large-scale manufacture of a vaccine not just for Britain, but for the globe – we are talking about tens of millions of doses.” Dr Matthew Duchars

The aim of both types of vaccine is the same, to prime the body’s immune system to recognise and fight off the real disease should it arrive. VMIC is playing a key role in the Oxford University consortium being led by the Jenner Institute, while at the same time working around the clock on the age-old problems behind scaling-up vaccine production. Dr Duchars said: “VMIC has been asked by the Government to look at ways of bringing forward large-scale manufacture of a vaccine not just for Britain, but for the globe – we are talking about tens of millions of doses. “Oxford has gone for the spike protein that your body will recognise, so we are looking at making large amounts of that viral vector to put into people and scaling that up is quite a challenge. “It needs to be made on a much larger scale than is usually done in a laboratory and as you grow more virus, something else might grow as well that either causes contamination or stops the protein of interest being produced. “The really challenging part of making these types of vaccines is that they not only have to be safe and efficacious, but you have to be able to guarantee every single dose is pure, whether you’re talking about one dose, a million doses or ten million doses.” The only facility of its type in Europe with Government funding, VMIC is a reservoir of expertise designed to lubricate the pathway from vaccine discovery to commercial production. Its remit is far wider than Covid, of course. The team is already in talks with a number of potential collaborators interested in developing several different types of vaccine.

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Indeed, while the agreement VMIC signed with Oxford Biomedica last week begins with AZD1222, it signalled the start of five-year partnership that will focus on improving the scaled-up manufacture of viral vector based vaccines generally. “Part of the design of VMIC has been to make its technology ‘agnostic’,” he said. “We aren’t here to use one type of technology. “We have made sure that our people are able to turn their hands to different approaches, whatever type of viral vector vaccine or anti-virus is required.” It would be the first of many such partnerships designed to help take the industry forward as a whole and to improve the UK’s standing in terms of commercialising vaccines. “The UK has a very good track record of discovery and development and being very innovative in that area,” he said. “But it doesn’t have a terribly good track record when it comes to scaling up and commercialising these vaccines – early candidates have often been taken abroad for commercialisation. “We need to turn that around and bring the process back home, so that the UK can be regarded as a key centre for the overall development of vaccines. “The more we can encourage vaccine developers to come from outside to do their work in the UK, the more VMIC will be regarded as a success.” www.vmicuk.com


| vaccines innovation |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

The UK’s first dedicated Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre The world class centre that will give the UK sovereign resilience and a global platform in the fight against Covid and many other diseases besides.

The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, a not-for-profit organisation established to provide the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and advanced manufacturing capability, has signed its first industry partnership agreement with gene and cell therapy group Oxford Biomedica plc.

GMP manufacturing capabilities for viral vector vaccine candidates at VMIC’s new manufacturing facility.

The agreement signed on June 8th involves the organisations collaborating to enable scaled-up manufacture of viral vector based vaccines, with an immediate focus on a vaccine for COVID-19, the first of which is the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca adenovirus vector vaccine candidate AZD1222 (previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19).

VMIC chief executive Matthew Duchars said: “This collaboration with Oxford Biomedica means that we can increase the UK’s capacity to manufacture viral vector vaccines in 2020 as part of a national effort in response to COVID-19.

This partnership marks the first step in the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) delivering the ‘Virtual VMIC’ programme, a rapid deployment enterprise designed to make vaccines at pace and scale once a viable COVID-19 vaccine has been found.

“It is the first agreement outside of our founding partners under VMIC’s longer term objective to work with, and enhance, the vaccine industry in the UK and abroad.”

Meanwhile, VMIC’s permanent facility is under construction at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire Due to open in mid-2021, the permanent facility will have the capability to produce up to 70million pandemic vaccine doses within four to six months of opening. As part of the June 8th agreement, Virtual VMIC will procure specialist manufacturing equipment to rapidly equip two new Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) manufacturing suites. This equipment will be housed within Oxford Biomedica’s new commercial manufacturing centre, Oxbox, located in Oxford.

The agreement provides a framework for a longer-term partnership between Oxford Biomedica and VMIC to explore other novel viral vector vaccine candidates.

“This marks a major milestone for VMIC in setting up collaborative partnerships with industry.

John Dawson, chief executive of Oxford Biomedica, said: “Since we became involved in addressing the urgent need for UK manufacturing capacity for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222, we have strived to support VMIC’s broader goal of accelerating and supporting UK manufacturing capacity and capabilities for vaccines more generally. “This highly collaborative partnership allows for a rapid deployment capability to be established, and also accelerates fit out and utilisation of another two GMP manufacturing suites within our new commercial manufacturing facility, Oxbox.”

Vaccine manufactured here will form part of the national effort to meet demand for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Kate Bingham, chair of the Vaccine Taskforce, said: “The Government is backing the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre as a crucial part of securing long-term vaccine manufacturing capability in the UK.

Oxford Biomedica will provide training and technical assistance to VMIC staff as part of a programme of activity to accelerate the operational readiness and

“Viral vector COVID-19 vaccine candidates are showing significant promise. This new partnership between VMIC and Oxford Biomedica marks a major milestone in

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| vaccines innovation |

increasing the UK manufacturing capacity of viral vector vaccines and will specifically help ensure that we have the right skills in place to manufacture a vaccine as soon as one is available.” Both VMIC and Oxford Biomedica are original members of the University of Oxford, Jenner Institute manufacturing consortium focused on scaling-up the GMP manufacture of AZD1222, which has entered clinical trials at multiple sites in the UK. VMIC has also been working as part of the national vaccines industry taskforce, where it advises on how the manufacture of any COVID-19 vaccine candidates can be scaled-up.

BACKGROUND The construction of the UK’s new vaccines centre started well ahead of schedule as timelines were fast-tracked due to Covid-19. Construction work at the site in Harwell began in early April in a rapidly accelerated programme. The target now is to get the 7,000m2 state-of-the-art facility open in 2021, rather than 2022, giving the UK’s emergency response capability a shot in the arm. The new centre has come about thanks to an unprecedented collaborative effort between VMIC, Harwell Campus, the Vale of the White Horse District Council, and UK Research and Innovation. VMIC itself was established by Oxford University, Imperial College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with support from industrial partners Merck Sharp and Dohme, Johnson and Johnson, and GE Healthcare. The centre’s main funding is a £65 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

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The director of Harwell Campus, Angus Horner, said: “Early delivery of VMIC will give UK sovereign resilience and also a new base from where we can support other countries, in the global battle against Covid-19, plus prepare to meet future threats.” VMIC will occupy a prominent location on the 700acre Harwell Campus, home to 5,500 people across 225 organisations, including the 30 universities represented on site. As a pillar organisation with the Harwell HealthTec Cluster (58 organisations collectively employing 1,250 people), VMIC will be co-located with the UK’s open access National Laboratories, including the Diamond Light Source and The Rosalind Franklin Institute, among many others working in the global and UK life sciences sector. It was announced in mid-May that VMIC was launching ‘Virtual VMIC’ in order to rapidly expand the UK’s capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, it said it would be ramping up the manufacturing capacity at its permanent facility to produce 70million vaccine doses within four to six months of opening, a twenty-fold increase on its original figure. As such, it has been awarded up to £131million by the Government in two funding reviews - £93million to expand the permanent facility’s capabilities and fast track the build, and £38million to create ‘Virtual VMIC’. The latter entails procuring manufacturing equipment, recruiting highly-skilled specialists and securing physical space to create the temporary manufacturing centre ready to make vaccines at pace and scale once a viable COVID-19 vaccine has been found. www.vmicuk.com


| storage and logistics |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

CUSTOMER SERVICE IS AT THE HEART OF THIS BIO BUSINESS An experienced research scientist herself, Sonia Houghton knew just what was needed from a biological sample storage and logistical management service when she set up Cryoniss. Its second operating facility is on the Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, Cheshire, complete with capabilities of storing biological samples at ambient temperatures, plus 4 °C, minus 20°C and minus 80°C. With expertise in facilities management, the landlord, SOG, provides exemplary support and opportunity for rapid growth for Cryoniss. “I have spent much of my career as a research scientist, which is why I understand that high quality samples are the cornerstone of scientific excellence,” Sonia said. “We also have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure patient samples remain of the highest quality. “We have put a huge amount of thought, effort and scientific knowledge into the process and have optimised every stage of the storage and logistics process.” A graduate in molecular and cellular biology, she herself worked for many years for AstraZeneca, generating purified proteins for oncology assay development and supporting oncology target optimisation projects . Sonia Houghton Having already established a first class internal service for AstraZeneca, providing next day delivery of qualified cell lines to its scientists, she had the expertise to launch a contract service organisation to do the same for other research, pharmaceutical and biotech enterprises all over the world. Supported by the Alderley Park Accelerator Team, the Chief Executive of Cryoniss completed a Customer Discovery exercise, ensuring she knew what prospective customers would need and want. Launched in April last year, Cryoniss now has two storage facilities that between them can hold greater than a million samples from room temperature down to vapour phase liquid nitrogen (minus196°C). Headquartered at Alderley Park, the largest bioscience business park in the UK and home to more than 200 scientific businesses, Cryoniss also has its world-class vapour phase liquid nitrogen storage facility there too.

She has also worked for Cancer Research Technology in London, where she helped to develop bespoke cellularbased assay for validation studies in cancer drug discovery, and as senior research bioscientist for the Antibody Generation Group. It was during her time at the latter that Sonia gained direct insight into the challenges of designing and running clinical trials and supported technological challenges for patient stratification. Ultimately, she was approached to lead the company’s Global Cell Bank, the liquid nitrogen storage and distribution facility and it was here that Sonia began working with Philip Hargreaves, her right-hand man and future co-founder of Cryoniss. By the time Sonia left in 2019, “We had a team of PhD scientists bringing in brand new cell lines, banking them down to best practice techniques and after successful completion of quality control analysis, the other half of the team coordinated the shipping of cryopreserved cell lines around the world.”

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| storage and logistics |

Alongside this, the team coordinated the purchasing, licence negotiations and international shipments of cell lines for AstraZeneca UK researchers. “The whole team worked together to build a service that we were all really proud of,” she said. AstraZeneca is moving its research to a brand-new facility in Cambridge and when, last year, Sonia was offered the opportunity of taking over the cell bank completely, she did. “That was the step – that was the beginning of Cryoniss,” she said. With a strong scientific background in supporting early-stage drug discovery projects through to clinical trials and life-cycle management, Sonia and Phil, Chief Operating Officer of Cryoniss, understand the challenges researchers face daily.

“For us, it was and still is about managing that process,” she said, “ensuring the samples remain of the highest quality. “We provide an excellent service.” Working with a network of partners chosen because they provide the same exceptional level of customer service, Cryoniss offers its own customers a holistic package of support that includes the acquisition of quality, ethically and legally sourced reagents, regulatory advice and guidance, end-to-end logistics solutions and the co-ordination of quality control testing of mammalian cell line reagents. www.cryoniss.com

“We have put a huge amount of thought, effort and scientific knowledge into the process and have optimised every stage of the storage and logistics process.” 25



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| covid-19 |

How a Novel Drug Discovery Technology Could Help in the Fight Against COVID-19 By Dr Asif Tulah Alcyomics

Alcyomics has been adapting its service provision and assays to play their part in the race to find new treatments for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and to better understand how this virus works. Normally the company focuses on delivering their services to the pharmaceutical industry, testing the safety and efficacy of novel therapeutics under development including small molecule drugs, biologics and cellular therapies, but has adapted its unique technology to tackling COVID19. Alcyomics Skimune® platform is normally used for the assessment of adverse immune reactions. The patented technology uses fresh human blood and autologous skin samples to mimic the human immune system in vitro and predict whether drugs will cause a systemic immune response, observed histopathologically as skin tissue damage. Skimune® readouts also include cytokine and chemokine responses as well as T cell profiling and proliferation responses which aid in identifying the type of drug induced immune response. This uniquely places the Skimune® Platform in a position to aid in the fight against SARS-CoV-2. Investing in studying the immune response to the virus will provide critical information for the evaluation of vaccines under development and also for the clinical management of patients. The so called “cytokine storm” in SARS-CoV-2 found in the most susceptible individuals (approximately 10% of individuals) is a serious inflammatory response with the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines including IFN-α, IFN-γ, IL-1β and IL-6 amongst others and chemokines such as CCL2, CCL3, CCL5, CXCL8, CXCL9 and CXCL10. A better understanding of this in patients is necessary for the development of future therapeutics, clinical management of patients and successful clinical trials.

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Alcyomics aims to assist companies with novel drug discovery by using their proprietary technology to test SARS-CoV-2 peptides identified from spike and nucleocapsid immunogenic proteins associated with different patient genotypes. Understanding this will provide important information on cytokine and chemokine profiles as well at the genetic level, which when correlated with epidemiological factors and HLA genotype information (for example, important HLA genotypes identified from other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS) could provide valuable insight into disease signatures and responder profiles. This information could prove extremely valuable to scientists and pharmaceutical companies involved in the development of new therapeutics. Alcyomics hope is that cytokine and chemokine profiles, as well as gene signatures, will correspond to low, medium and high responders of SARS-CoV-19. These results will inform on the severity or heterogeneity of the “cytokine storm”, pathways of immune activation and identify susceptibility differences to the virus. Professor Anne Dickinson, CEO of Alcyomics, said ‘Further understanding of the pathways of immune activation and differences in susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 will help design therapeutic strategies to modulate the immune response and aid vaccine development’. The safety and efficacy assessment of drugs is the normal business activity for Alcyomics and here their assays could also provide assistance in vaccine development. They aim to show the specificity of the vaccine against the target antigen and also through investigating the exacerbated release of cytokines. Professor Dickinson, added: ‘Using anti-viral T-cell specific assays and our Skimune® platform will enable us to demonstrate safety and efficacy for anti-viral vaccines’. Alcyomics are currently exploring these options by speaking with the industry to determine the scope for collaboration of research projects on these topics.


| covid-19 |

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Call to address lack of patient diversity in research Innovative Trials, a clinical trial patient recruitment company, is calling on the medical research community and pharmaceutical sector to come together to tackle the issue of patient diversity in research, particularly in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. By Kate Shaw

CEO of Innovative Trials, The company is concerned that the fast pace of Covid-19 research to find treatments and vaccines, combined with long-held, industry-wide challenges of recruiting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities into clinical trials, means these groups could be ‘missed out’ from research. This is despite BAME groups being at greater risk of dying from the virus. Kate Shaw, CEO of Innovative Trials, said: “Black people are up to four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those who are white, and Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are also at increased risk, but we don’t yet fully understand why. “This is why it’s imperative to involve these groups in any research testing potential treatments and vaccines. Unfortunately, people from BAME communities are traditionally under-represented in research. We need this to change.” According to one study, only around five percent of people from BAME groups in the UK who had been surveyed had ever participated in medical research. The reasons behind this are complex, including Issues such as cultural barriers and lack of knowledge of clinical trials. However, without diverse patient representation, it can be difficult to assess how effective treatments are for different groups of people.

Innovative Trials is calling for all those involved in clinical trials – from funders and researchers to drug manufacturers – to come together and implement an integrated approach to tackle this inequality, such as: designing clinical trials with a focus on patients’ needs, not just treatment outcomes; the research community and pharmaceutical companies working hand-in-hand with BAME communities to increase their understanding of research and participation in clinical trials; a focus on how research can be conducted internationally, particularly in countries where populations are predominately non-white, to ensure a more diverse representation of ethnicity; research funders setting patient diversity ratios where appropriate to ensure a more equal representation of ethnicity in clinical research. Shaw said: “Patient diversity is an issue that the global research community and pharmaceutical sector has struggled with for years. While small steps forward have been taken, there is still more to do. “If we’re going to find effective treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 – or any other condition for that matter – we must all work together to make sure clinical trials represent those most at risk. “Otherwise we risk developing drugs that may not be effective in some population groups.”

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| covid-19 |

JOHNS HOPKINS EXPERTS PUBLISH GUIDEBOOK FOR BLOOD PLASMA THERAPY A team of Johns Hopkins experts has created a clinical guidebook to help hospitals and medical centers rapidly scale up their ability to deliver so-called convalescent plasma therapy, which leverages immune system components found in the plasma portion of blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 illness. “We’ve received many inquiries from health care providers looking to ramp up their ability to deliver this therapy,” says Evan M Bloch, M.D., M.S. an associate professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who is part of the team working on convalescent therapy. “There is historical precedent for its use to prevent and treat viral illness. However, during the chaos of an epidemic, the therapy is often deployed without rigorously studying its effects. Carefully conducted studies are critically needed to understand which people are most likely to benefit from this therapy and how best to apply it to optimize that benefit.” The guidebook was published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. In recent weeks, infectious disease expert Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D., has led a team of physicians and scientists from around the United States to establish a network of hospitals and blood banks that can begin collecting, isolating and processing blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors. “This paper details the nuts and bolts of how to deploy convalescent plasma, and this information should be very helpful to colleagues worldwide who are preparing to use this therapy against COVID-19,” says Casadevall, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor who holds joint appointments in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has paved the way for researchers at Johns Hopkins to proceed with clinical trials to test convalescent plasma therapy in people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness and have been exposed to people who have tested positive for the virus. Like most therapies, Bloch says, convalescent blood plasma’s best potential for effectiveness is early in the disease’s progression. Currently, there are no proven drug therapies or effective vaccines for treating COVID-19. The guidebook outlines a range of clinical trials underway or planned at hospitals taking part in the Johns Hopkins-led network for convalescent plasma therapy.

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Among the protocols outlined in the guide are criteria for eligible donors of blood plasma, how hospitals can mobilize donors and work with local and national blood centers, methods for prescreening donors, and the risks and potential benefits of the therapy. Bloch, also an expert on global health, says convalescent blood plasma therapy can be deployed in low-resource communities. There is a difference, however, in how blood plasma may be collected in communities with low versus high resources. He says high-resource communities typically rely on apheresis machines to remove a donor’s blood, filter the plasma from it, and return the rest of the blood, plus a replacement for the collected plasma (i.e. a protein called albumin), back to the donor. Using the apheresis method, a single donor could produce enough plasma to potentially benefit up to three other people. In low-resource communities where apheresis machines may be unavailable, the output of plasma would be less per donor. This is because doctors have to perform a typical whole blood donation from the donor and manually separate the plasma in a laboratory by using a centrifuge machine or letting gravity separate the blood products. Among the most common challenges to scaling up convalescent blood plasma therapy, Bloch says, is rapidly developing in-house testing for whether the blood plasma of donors contains key antibodies the immune system needs to recognize and help destroy the virus in the body. There are also logistical challenges associated with identifying donors and performing repeat COVID-19 nasal swab tests for the virus in them. “This field is moving so fast that a problem today is solved tomorrow,” says Bloch. “We aimed to publish a baseline document that can serve hospitals globally. It will, undoubtedly, evolve.”


| covid-19 |

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BIOQUELL HELPING PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES RESUME OPERATIONS POST-COVID-19 Bioquell Rapid Bio Decontamination Service (RBDS) enables businesses to quickly regain control of clean spaces and ramp up capacity As the world prepares to enter the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic with the potential relaxation of lockdown restrictions, Bioquell, an Ecolab solution and leading manufacturer of high performance biodecontamination technology, is utilizing its well-proven Rapid Bio Decontamination Service (RBDS) to help pharmaceutical companies ensure operational continuity and quickly ramp up capacity.

The fully managed and inclusive RBDS solution, which utilises the company’s scientifically proven 35% Hydrogen Peroxide Vapour technology, provides microbiologically clean surfaces and spaces. It is backed by an excellent track record of use in spaces impacted by pathogens including SARS, EBOLA, MERS-CoV and SARS CoV-2 across a range of life science and healthcare environments. Bioquell RBDS can be used to effectively decontaminate newly constructed spaces prior to occupation or production areas after a scheduled maintenance to ensure there are no remaining contaminants that might impact operations.

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| covid-19 |

As a result, it will enable pharmaceutical companies that have reduced production during the coronavirus pandemic to quickly gain control of clean spaces and return to full capacity. Bioquell RBDS is a fully managed service that enables pharmaceutical businesses to retain or recover the microbial integrity of critical areas such as clean rooms and research laboratories. Bioquell’s Hydrogen Peroxide Vapour is a vapour-phase disinfection method that is virucidal on structurally distinct viruses dried on surfaces. It achieves a level of efficacy against a wide range of microorganisms unmatched by standard cleaning practices and other disinfection technologies. It is uniform across the entire target area and not limited to line-of-sight or easy-to-reach spaces. The process is residue-free, proven safe on sensitive electronics and shown to kill a broad spectrum of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores and more. Bioquell RBDS can be quickly called upon to eradicate coronavirus¹ and other bioburden from a single area, several locations within a facility or an entire building. The service is fully operated by Bioquell’s expert team of bio-

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decontamination specialists allowing on-site staff to focus on the other activities need to restore operation. In some cases, decontamination can be completed in as little as 24 hours enabling a rapid return to production. It offers the flexibility to retain or recover the microbial integrity of critical areas with every deployment including planning, coordination, setup, equipment, and cycle validation and verification. It provides a complete final report confirming a 6-log kill of the spaces and surfaces that have been treated with the use of biological and chemical indicators. For further information on Bioquell’s RBDS visit www.bioquell.com/healthcare/systems-and-services/ rapid-bio-decontamination-service-rbds/?lang=en-uk


| NETpark |

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The North East Technology Park is based in Sedgefield, County Durham

Find out why County Durham’s NETPark is quickly becoming a global hub for bio-science companies Home to two UK catapult centres, three national innovation centres and one of the country’s leading AIM listed tech companies, The North East Technology Park (NETPark) really is a thriving hub of innovation making an impact on a global scale. Since opening nearly sixteen years ago, NETPark has quickly become one of the UK’s leading science, engineering and technology parks. It’s open spaces and green landscapes give a real campus feel that inspires a collaborative and innovative culture. An atmosphere that inspires collaborative research & development projects led by international organisations, world class universities and serial entrepreneurs. Earlier this year the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) published The Power of Place report written help to shape Government policy on research and development (R&D) feeding into the Government’s ‘levelling up’ and R&D agenda. The report highlighted NETPark and Business Durham as an excellent example of local leadership bringing great benefits to the local economy. Since its inception NETPark has established close working relationships with CPI, who have three national innovations centres on the park and Durham University, a world top 100 university.

BIOSCIENCE AT NETPARK NETPark is already home to a numerous bio-science companies working tirelessly to develop products that will improve the lives of people across the globe. Never more so than during the coronavirus pandemic where a number of bio-science companies based at NETPark have risen to the challenge. Drug discovery company ReViral, known for work on a treatment for Respiratory Syncytial Virus which affects children and the elderly, has set up a not-for-profit business called Collaborative Company Against Coronavirus, CIC. Working with a world-leading anti-viral team at the University of Leuven, in Belgium, the newly formed company says its work could identify effective inhibitors of coronavirus and other strains of the illness within two years. Dr Stuart Cockerill, chief scientific advisor at ReViral, said: “We love it at NETPark. It’s a great location and a good site being among other companies such as the CPI. It’s clean and a safe site.” REPROCELL Europe, which works in stem cell and 3D cell culture research, joined a consortium with partners in North America and Europe to develop a vaccine for the virus. One of NETPark first tenants and Durham University spin-out, AIM listed Kromek Group, is working on the development of a mobile pathogen detection system, to detect biological threats, such as COVID-19.

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| NETpark |

Northumbria Pharma are based at NETPark. They specialise in the research, development, manufacture, licensing and marketing of unique and vital pharmaceutical products

“It’s great to see companies on NETPark adapt and use their knowledge and experience to tackle the challenges COVID-19 brings. In fact, we have seen an increase in occupancy during 2020 demonstrating we have the infrastructure, support networks and collaborative environment that companies working in this space thrive upon.” Janet Todd - NETPark Manager NETPark Manager Janet Todd said: “It’s great to see companies on NETPark adapt and use their knowledge and experience to tackle the challenges COVID-19 brings. In fact, we have seen an increase in occupancy during 2020 demonstrating we have the infrastructure, support networks and collaborative environment that companies working in this space thrive upon.” One of those new tenants is another Durham University spin-out, Specialist C. elegans CRO company MagnitudeBiosciences, a highly innovative bio-science company delivering services in the growing area of research and development in ageing, neurodegeneration, microbiome and toxicity. Independent research and development company High Force Research Ltd made the move to NETPark in 2019 as they look to grow from its current 34 employees to 40. The company, established in 1988, is a chemical development partner for some of the world’s most innovative companies and is involved in many R&D projects, including scaling up processes to supply APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) made to cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practice) standards for early clinical trials. Its main areas of business are in the Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology and Fine Chemical industries. Janet continues: “The park is ideal for this type of university spin out company, where the group will be able to benefit from the facilities, support and networks as they move to the next stage of their development.” Significant investment over recent years means NETPark is able to offer 120,000 sq ft of high-spec laboratory, office and clean room space including over 43,000 sq. ft of dedicated incubation space in NETPark Plexus

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helping to accelerate the success of knowledge-based companies into global markets. Growing businesses will find no shortage of room to grow at NETPark. Buildings include Discovery 1 & 2 as well as the most recent additions on-site NETPark Explorer 1 & 2 offering grow-on spaces for graduating incubation companies and established businesses alike. For companies looking to develop bespoke premises NETPark phase three provides 26 acres of land for development of bespoke premises perfect for businesses that need larger space to prototype, scale-up and manufacture on site. Add to this vibrant community the North East Satellite Applications Catapult, helping companies solve problems and open up opportunities using satellite data and technology, and you have NETPark, the North East’s leading science park, looking ahead to a positive future. To find out more about NETPark visit www.northeasttechnologypark.com (+44) 01740 625250 enquiries@northeasttechnologypark.com @NETParkUK netparkuk


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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| intellectual property |

Access to Intellectual Property (IP) Rights in a Time of Emergency – Patent Pools and Beyond The pharmaceutical and healthcare industry is often accused of misusing IP to extend exclusivity and delay reasonably priced access to life saving technologies. The recent pandemic has focussed attention on the industry as it works to develop vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments, and the role of IP rights, particularly patents, in those developments is being scrutinised. In early April 2020 a group of over 140 organisations and individuals wrote to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) asking that they ensure that IP regimes support, rather than impede, efforts to combat Coronavirus. Alex Bone

Patent Attorney, Partner, AA Thornton Usually access to IP rights is obtained by requesting a licence from the rights owners’ then decide whether to grant that licence, and on what terms. However, when focussed on developing products to meet an immediate need, searching for third party rights to license may be considered an unwanted complication. Although unwanted, conducting searches can be valuable, helping to avoid surprises, permitting design changes to avoid risks, and providing insights into other possibilities. For some technologies in which access to multiple patent rights is needed to create a viable product the creation of a patent pool for those rights can facilitate matters. Patent pools are agreements in which parties pool their rights and license them as a package. The rights owners can agree terms under which they license one or more rights to each other, or to third parties, or they can assign or license rights to a central “entity” which manages the rights making access to the pool of rights more straightforward. The pool can reduce the number of licences required, making it easier to deal with multiple owners and handle royalties. Patent pools in medicines are not new and have been proposed in response to past emergencies. Following the severe acute respiratory disease (SARS) outbreak there was a rush to sequence the SARS genome and apply for patents and a patent pool was proposed. However the outbreak ended sooner than expected and the pool was never established. In April 2020 the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed organisation working to increase access to, and facilitate the development of, life-saving medicines, temporarily expanded its mandate to include technologies that could contribute to combatting COVID-19. The above mechanisms rely upon rights owners being willing to grant access upon reasonable terms. Willingness to grant licences depends upon many factors, including publicity (positive or negative). Companies can be encouraged to grant licences and public perception can be sufficient for companies to give up certain rights altogether. Recently, following public criticism, Roche decided to share a proprietary formula for part of its coronavirus testing kits, and Gilead Sciences renounced an orphan drug designation in the US that granted special status to its potential coronavirus treatment remdesivir. However, public perception may not be sufficient and sometimes companies may be unwilling to grant access to their rights. Patent laws do provide mechanisms to compel patent owners to grant access. The granting of such compulsory

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licences is a sensitive issue. It breaches the deal under which patent applicants disclose their invention in return for the potential to secure a period of market exclusivity. Although a compulsory licence should provide the patentee with a “reasonable royalty”, there is no compensation for the loss of control over the invention. However, where a specific patent is preventing adequate supply of a critical product, the use of compulsory licence provisions might be exactly what is required and Francis Gurry, director-general of WIPO, has said that during an emergency, health and safety “trumps everything”. In response to the pandemic some countries have amended their IP laws to provide enhanced ability to grant such licences. For example Canada’s Parliament, as part of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, has added health emergency compulsory licensing legislation to Canada’s Patent Act. Companies voluntarily licencing rights is preferable as it allows greater control and encourages sharing of associated rights. However, it is reassuring to know that there are options to force licences to be made available if necessary. If you have any queries regarding this topic, or other pharmaceutical or biotechnological matters, please contact Alex Bone at amtb@aathornton.com or visit aathornton.com


| drug delivery |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

Nemera takes dermal treatments to millions of patients Nemera is a world leader in design, development and manufacturing of drug delivery devices for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and generic industries, including complex dermal drug delivery devices. the patients to use the device in any position. Depending on the application site on the body this last function can simplify treatment administration. The skin is used in pharmaceutical delivery to target three areas. The first, and most common, are the upper layers of the skin itself used to treat dermatological conditions such as acne, atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. The second is the bloodstream, referred to as ‘transdermal systemic delivery’, whereby gels or creams are absorbed and circulated into the whole body by the bloodstream. The main examples are hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for women with menopausal symptoms or for men having hypogonadism. Audrey Chandra

Raphaële Audibert

Dermal pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal hygiene products all use the skin as their point of access, but there is a world of difference between how they are each regulated or manufactured. For pharmaceutical applications, the dispensers need to be suitable to contain drug formulations and ensure that the treatment delivery to the patient is consistent. Very few are able to fulfill these requirements. They can be identified by their compliance to regulatory standards specific to packaging of medicinal products and to medical devices. “This is essential to ensure that both the formulation and its container are safe and easy to use for patients”, confirms Raphaële Audibert, Nemera’s Global Category Manager for dermal pharmaceutical devices. Some dermal delivery devices are even airless which ensures the formulation not to be in contact with air. “Some of the treatments – the formulations – they contain are very sensitive and need to be perfectly protected to remain stable” she said. When you press down on the pump of, say, a soap dispenser, you have air that goes in the bottle when the product comes out, but that does not happen with airless devices. This allows the pharma company to avoid overfilling as most of the formulation is extracted from the device and

And the third are the underlying tissues below the skin layers, referring to the application of anti-inflammatory treatments directly to the source of the problem, most commonly aching knee, elbow and shoulder joints. Here, the drug is absorbed through the skin into the muscles and tendons below. Nemera has been working in the dermal field for the past two decades and produces airless devices used by some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world to ultimately serve patients’ needs, and is today leading the systemic transdermal gel and cream market. The first treatment launched with a Nemera device was for cold sores, and today millions of patients rely on its precise delivery systems for a wide range of topical and systemic conditions in the dermal drug delivery field alone. One of the biggest breakthroughs has been the airless device designed by the Nemera team, Sof’Bag®. Sof’Bag® is composed of an aluminium based pouch inside a bottle surrounded by a metered pump dispenser. It is designed with several features: the part containing the formulation, the pouch, protects it from oxidation, light and humidity. These elements can sometimes alter the formulation and modify its efficacy if they are allowed. With 360° delivery thanks to its airless property, the Sof’Bag® can also dispense formulation across a wide range of viscosities, whether liquid, oil, cream or ointment increasing patients’ convenience. Very little of the product

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| drug delivery |

is wasted– more than 95% of the contents of this ‘pouchin-a-bottle’ can be extracted. Goes without saying that we comply to the regulations. For instance, the ISO 15378 and ISO 13485 standards among others. Audrey Chandra, Category Manager said: “We focus on addressing patients’ needs by developing and producing high-end devices as well as on giving the pharmaceutical companies all the technical support they might need along the way.” Nemera provides an end-to-end service, which includes taking a product from early-stages concept, including human factors studies, to design and high scale manufacturing, the technical support needed in relation to filling the drug delivery devices, and supporting the submission of registration dossiers to the appropriate regulatory authorities. This holistic approach and integrated front-to-end services enable Nemera to innovate within every development phase of its products. Our ultimate goal is to foster patients’ adherence to their treatment and improve their quality of life. www.nemera.net

We focus on addressing patients’ needs by developing and producing high-end devices as well as on giving the pharmaceutical companies all the technical support they might need along the way.” 37


Patient-focused drug delivery devices Drug Delivery Devices Innovative developments Customized solutions GMP customer IP manufacturing

www.nemera.net information@nemera.net Phone: +33 (0)4 74 94 06 54


| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| news |

Discovery raises possibility of asthma treatment A University of Dundee researcher has uncovered why parasitic worm infections seem to protect people from developing asthma, paving the way for potential future treatments for the disease.

“Populations with high rates of worm infections tend to have less asthma. In the developed world over the last century we have been very successful at getting rid of worms but have seen a huge rise in allergic diseases at the same time. Therefore, we believe that parasite secretions could contain new treatments for allergic diseases.”

Although it has been known for some time that parasites called roundworms, which live in the intestines of people and animals, can prevent the development of allergic immune responses, scientists have been unable to explain how this happens.

Asthma causes inflammation in the airways and ranges in its severity from mild to life-threatening. Pets, pollen and house dust mites are among the common triggers for asthma attacks so treatments that inhibit allergic responses have the potential to significantly improve the lives of patients.

Dr Henry McSorley, from the University’s School of Life Sciences, led research examining how worms interfere with the parts of immune system which cause allergy. He and his colleagues discovered that worms secrete a molecule called HpBARI that blocks key signals between cells of the immune system associated with allergic responses.

A particularly important aspect of the allergic immune response is a messenger molecule called IL-33, which is released in the lung when an allergen is inhaled and its release is one of the critical steps in the development of asthma in susceptible people.

The presence of HpBARI alone was enough to prevent the development of asthma in mouse models, while the researchers also found that it blocked the same pathway in human cells. “Parasitic worms are complex creatures that evolved to survive inside our body,” explained Dr McSorley. “One of the ways they did this was by developing sophisticated techniques to avoid elimination by our immune system. “They release molecules which block immune responses that would otherwise kill them. Importantly, the same immune responses that kill parasitic worms are also responsible for causing allergies and asthma.

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HpBARI binds to and blocks the receptor for IL-33, preventing IL-33 from transmitting its signal. Due to this activity, Dr McSorley’s team found that HpBARI was very effective in preventing the development of allergic immune responses and believe that it could potentially be used to prevent asthma. “In order to develop this towards new medicines, further work needs to be carried out to determine exactly how HpBARI is so effective at blocking the IL-33 receptor,” continued Dr McSorley. “From there we will examine whether this could be safely developed towards new medicines for administration to people living with asthma.” The research was published in the journal eLife.


| bioprocessing |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

OPENING NEW PATHWAYS FOR BIOPROCESSING A pivotal link between industry and academia, Teesside University’s £22m National Horizons Centre (NHC) opened last September with two very clear objectives. One is to drive research into bioprocessing, an oftenoverlooked subject through which life science discoveries are turned into products, processes and systems for the benefit of mankind and to sustain economic progress. Currently UK’s bioeconomy provides 5.2m jobs and is worth £220bn supporting industries such as biopharmaceuticals, agriculture and food processing. The National Horizons Centre’s second objective is to plug the ever-yawning skills gap in bioindustries that currently requires between three to five thousand people. Associate Director for the centre, Dr M. Safwan Akram said: “The NHC is not only improving research in the field of bioprocessing, but also trying to ensure that trained manpower is available to manufacture for what can be very advanced, but also very expensive treatments.” He cites the example of gene editing, which can be used to side-step sickle cell anaemia and spinal muscular atrophy, the latter a breakthrough made just a few months ago. The first stage, in that treatment, is an injection which costs $750,000, while the subsequent annual injections cost $350,000. “In the past 3 years, there have been huge improvements in treatments designed to cure people of these genetic disorders, but the question is at what cost? And what can we do to bring these costs down?” he said. “Haemophilia, a blood clotting disorder is another example. Here, probably just one injection is needed, but at a cost of £2.1m. Imagine if an NHS trust attempts to treat a handful of haemophiliac patients in a quarter, it could go under at that high cost.” It was not long ago, a group of parents protested outside a Manchester hospital, begging for the spinal muscular atrophy treatment for their children. “I have seen first-hand the difference it makes between there being no treatment and knowing there is a treatment available, but you can’t afford it,” he said. “That is a very challenging scenario, something which can rip through the moral fabric of the society.”

Therefore, the academic team at NHC is working on the challenges of the industry, investigating, for example, how to scale-up the production of biological drugs while bringing down the costs and improving accessibility. It is imperative to understand the difference between small molecules and biological drugs. Small molecules can be produced in copious amounts rather easily while biologics tend to have modifications to their structure during the scale up thus warranting stricter control, better purification and high-end analytics accompanying the process. Consequently, we do not see the level of cost savings in biologics, in comparison to small molecules where generic competition can erode 80% off the price from the brand while in biosimilars (generic equivalent for biologics) it is only around 25 to 30%. The NHC is using its world class facilities for continuing professional development programmes and apprenticeships, while supporting various undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. NHC is also working with the development of Virtual and Augmented Reality tools for training and monitoring of the workforce for tomorrow. “This probably is the next big thing to reality and has indeed come to the forefront after COVID-19 outbreak.” Dr Akram said: “This is such a compact building with great facilities from genomics, proteomics and imaging tools under one roof. Students can complete most of their projects without going out of the building, I remember during my PhD at Cambridge University, cycling my samples around from Central Cambridge to the South in Addenbrookes Hospital to Cavendish laboratory in the West. This is a dream come true for a biochemistry, molecular biology and bioengineering students” Purposefully located within a cluster of scientific excellence in Darlington, a stone’s throw from the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre, NHC already has close working relationships with the three local NHS trusts. Safwan said “We are also working with a food company named Quorn, where efficiencies are being sought in their fermentation process. If successful, it might shave off a few pence off their products and your readers can think of Teesside University while munching off their yummy vegan sausages”. You can reach Dr. Muhammad Safwan Akram at Safwan.akram@tees.ac.uk

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The National Horizons Centre (NHC) is a new ÂŁ22.3m purpose-built research, education and training facility for the biosciences sector, located in Central Park, Darlington. Collaborating with industry partners, the NHC is playing a pivotal role in tackling sector challenges, delivering outstanding technical, leadership and digital skills, world-class research and innovation, and excellence in teaching.

CONTACT US

E: T:

business@tees.ac.uk 01642 384068

CAG 11584

W: www.nationalhorizonscentre.org.uk


| aged research & innovation |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| aged research & innovation |

TEAM TASKED WITH GIVING US FIVE EXTRA YEARS OF HEALTH AND HAPPINESS The National Innovation Centre for Ageing is based in The Catalyst, the stunning new building with a glass façade rearing like a horse’s head out of the 24-acre, £350m science park that is the Newcastle Helix. The team within has equally ambitious designs, HELEN COMPSON learns.

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| aged research & innovation |

It was a simple enough question, asked of a broad range of women in their sixth decade and beyond. What makes you happy? However, the answers they gave, in the JOY project that ultimately had to host its final exhibition on line last month, are just one small illustration of the complexity of the work of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing. ‘My grandchildren’ was a popular reply, as was ‘playing the piano’, ‘doing arts and crafts’ and ‘singing’. But for some it was swimming in the North Sea, standing on a remote mountain top, being a Lesbian feminist and, said one blue-haired lady with a big smile, ‘the sexual relationship I have with my new man – we have a lot of fun’. The National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA), tasked with furthering the Government’s objective of endowing the population as a whole with five extra years of healthy ageing by 2030, is on a mission as diverse as the women’s answers. As the man poached from Boston’s MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab to be its director, Prof. Nic Palmarini, explains, it is working with eight ‘vertical’ industries, namely housing, rural, transport, work, financial services, lifestyle, fashion & beauty, and entertainment. Its programme matrix is given breadth by four ‘horizontals’, promoting healthy ageing, ethics (from three main perspectuives: diversity, equality, trustable AI), an antiageist narrative and a holistic approach to climate change. Tackling the exigencies of ageing and old age was a huge challenge, but one in which the UK was taking a global lead, he said.

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

“The UK is one of the few governments in the world that has a pretty straightforward and clear strategy regarding the older adult, having made ageing one of the four key national research pillars. “Few countries have such a view from their central government.” Prof. Palmarini is Italian and as such hails from the fastest ageing country after Japan (Germany and Spain aren’t far behind), a conclusion distilled not only from the increasing average life expectancy, but also the higher expectations of the accompanying quality of life. “For me though, looking at the nation - the UK - that was dedicating so much energy to the vision of ageing well, that convinced me to leave everything and come here to join this centre,” he said. “It is one of the mega-challenges we have on the planet, along with climate change, but it is also an opportunity to contribute.” NICA’s pivotal role is to turn the science into hard and fast developments that will support the physical and mental wellbeing of people as they age. On the one hand, that can mean making the economic case to would-be investors capable of switching on a production line or perhaps facilitating the expansion or importation of a new service or technology. A good example here is a device being developed by Italian company Piaggio, producer of the iconic Vespa scooter. Christened ‘Gita’, it is a robotic trolley that can be loaded with up to 23kilos of, say, groceries and has an

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| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

| aged research & innovation |

devices over to Newcastle. “It will be the first city outside of the USA to test this type of technology.” Another example is enabling the rollout of an ‘on demand’ care system that uses an app to match requests for help with volunteers able to respond. “onHand started up in London in November and it operates like Uber, but for care,” he said. “If you need a lightbulb changing or somebody to shop for you, it conveys the request. It provides the type of informal care a friend or member of the family would provide.” Newcastle will be the first city outside of London to get the service. On the other hand, NICA can also be driving a project as concrete as the whole new neighbourhood that is going to be built but a stone’s throw from The Catalyst. “With that, we will be providing a new perspective on how homes of the future could be designed,” he said. “It is about building communities rather than just housing, about creating a kind of new village as well as a home.” It will be a testbed for all manner of aids, from the social mechanisms needed to counteract isolation and loneliness to the very practical requirements of accessibility and functionality that allow people to remain in their own homes as long as possible. One example is the 4Gen kitchen, the structure of which will be the very epitome of adaptability. “It grows with you and changes as your needs do over time,” said Prof. Palmarini. “The kitchen you need in your early twenties is very different to the one you need when you have young children and then, when they grow up and leave home and you are older, maybe you have arthritis or perhaps you are in a wheelchair … the units could be adjusted accordingly. Prof. Nic Palmarini

“For me though, looking at the nation - the UK - that was dedicating so much energy to the vision of ageing well, that convinced me to leave everything and come here to join this centre. It is one of the megachallenges we have on the planet, along with climate change, but it is also an opportunity to contribute.” artificial intelligence that enables it to follow you round the supermarket and home. “Think of it like a faithful dog,” he laughed. “It uses very sophisticated AI driven electronics and it’s a beautiful piece of work! “Then think of how it will help older people, transporting their goods in cities that are starting to become more and more pedestrianised. “We want to explore if this type of device could help tackle loneliness and isolation.” The Gita is being developed by Piaggio’s spin-off, PFF, and Prof. Palmarini is now preparing to bring some of the first

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“We have the draft of a model kitchen, but unfortunately the latest dramatic events due to COVID19 haven’t allowed us to unveil it yet. We can’t wait to invite the city to come and see it.” The design was informed by the experience and views of the 8000-strong VOICE, the small army of citizens who help shape the centre’s work and resultant solutions, and by NICA’s Ageing IntelligenceTM data, which provides commercial insight into the ageing population and their wider social circle. NICA’s mission was to work collaboratively to create a world in which we all live longer, healthier and happier lives, he said. Prof. Palmarini took up his new post in October, but by then, he was already well aware of the ground-breaking science coming out of Newcastle, of the world-leading science park taking shape and, indeed, of the work done by renowned Newcastle University professors Louise Robinson and Tom Kirkwood. The former trained as a GP in rural Northumberland and today is Regius Professor of Ageing at the university. The latter meanwhile hails from South Africa, is a biologist by profession and made his name proposing the disposable soma theory of ageing, which posits that an organism only has a limited amount of resources, or soma, for cellular activity and therefore it will age in line with an evolutionary trade-off between growth, reproduction and DNA repair maintenance. Prof. Palmarini said: “They have dedicated their lives over the past 30 years and more to the subject, from the biological process of ageing to the effects of society on the process. “So NICA has the advantage of an amazing heritage here in Newcastle.” www.ncl.ac.uk/nica


POSTGRADUATE STUDY FOR POSTGRADUATE STUDY FOR LIFE SCIENCES GRADUATES LIFE SCIENCES GRADUATES WHERE NEXT WITH YOUR DEGREE? If you have studied a life science subject such as biomedical science, microbiology, genetics, anatomy or biology then the University of Birmingham may offer the perfect postgraduate programme to help you take your next step.

WHERE NEXT WITH YOUR DEGREE?

We offer a variety of programmes to suit your individual needs and interests, backed up by the academic If you havefacilities studied and a lifeinfluence science subject such as biomedical microbiology, or events. biology expertise, of a global university. To findscience, out more get in touchgenetics, at one ofanatomy our online then the University of Birmingham may offer the perfect postgraduate programme to help you take your next step. We offer a variety of programmes to suit your individual needs and interests, backed up by the academic At the University of Birmingham we offer expertise, facilities and influence of a global university. To find out more get in touch at one of our online events. a wide range of over 30 postgraduate programmes suitable for recent life science graduates including: At the University of Birmingham we offer a wide range of over 30 postgraduate programmes suitable for recent life science n Bioinformatics graduates n Clinicalincluding: Neuropsychiatry

MASTERS PROGRAMMES n

Clinical Trials

Dental Materials Science MASTERS PROGRAMMES n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n

Genomic Medicine Bioinformatics Health Economics and Health Policy Clinical Neuropsychiatry Health Research Methods Clinical Trials Immunology and Science Immunotherapy Dental Materials Microbiology and Genomic MedicineInfection Molecular Biotechnology Health Economics and Health Policy Physician Associate Health Research Methods Public Healthand Immunotherapy Immunology Toxicology Microbiology and Infection Trauma Science Molecular Biotechnology

Physician Associate n Public Health n n Toxicology Cancer Sciences n Trauma Science n Clinical Health Research n

STAY IN TOUCH

MASTER OF RESEARCH PROGRAMMES n

Biomedical Research: Cardiovascular Sciences Molecular and Cellular Biology Cancer Sciences Molecular Mechanistic Toxicology Clinical Health Research

MASTER OF RESEARCH PROGRAMMES n n n n

Biomedical Research: We Cardiovascular also offer a wide range of Sciences PhDMolecular programmes. n and Cellular Biology n

n

Molecular Mechanistic Toxicology

We also offer a wide range of PhD programmes.

We offer several opportunities for you to find out more with Virtual Open Days, online chat events, and of course you can always make an email enquiry.

STAY IN TOUCH

ONLINE CHAT EVENTS

We offer several opportunities for you to find To register for Virtual virtual events and for out more with Open Days, online chat information individual programmes visit: events, andabout of course you can always make www.birmingham.ac.uk/pg-life-sciences an email enquiry.

May/June/July 2020 Our Postgraduate Online Chat Events will give you the best opportunity to ask any questions you may have about our Masters and research opportunities. You can register May/June/July 2020 online to keep up to date with Our Postgraduate Online Chatwhich Events programmes are best holding online events. will give you the opportunity to ask any

To register for virtual events and for information about individual programmes visit: www.birmingham.ac.uk/pg-life-sciences

questions you may have about our Masters and research opportunities. You can register online to keep up to date with which programmes are holding online events.

ONLINE CHAT EVENTS


www.birmingham.ac.uk/pg-life-sciences

www.birmingham.ac.uk/pg-life-sciences

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Our students are our best voice so we have included a few profiles below. To access more profiles of our postgraduate students please visit: www.birmingham.ac.uk/pg-life-sciences Our students are our best voice so we have included a few profiles below. To access more profiles of our postgraduate students please visit: www.birmingham.ac.uk/pg-life-sciences

MSC TRAUMA SCIENCE

opportunities given to me by far have been the best MSC SCIENCE ‘ TheTRAUMA

thing about the course. All the lecturers that have taught so far have come from different specialities and each have The to me byThey far have theme best theiropportunities own input intogiven this course. havebeen offered the thing about the course.them All the thatand have taught opportunity to shadow in lecturers the hospital gain an so far have come from different specialities and each have exceptional experience. their own input into this course. They have offered me the Nirali is a MSc Trauma Science student who also holds a degree in Biomedical Science. opportunity to shadow them in the hospital and gain an She is keen on pursuing a degree in Medicine in the future. She currently works as a exceptional experience. medical laboratory assistant in London and volunteers at many organisations.

Nirali is a MSc Trauma Science student who also holds a degree in Biomedical Science. She is keen on pursuing a degree in Medicine in the future. She currently works as a medical laboratory assistant in London and volunteers at many organisations.

MRES MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY me, I really wanted to gain more practical lab experience MRES MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY ‘ For in biology after my undergraduate and see whether a career in research was for me. Doing an MRes has allowed me For me, in I really wanted to gain more practical lab experience to work two different labs throughout the academic year in biology undergraduate and in see whether a career and gain aafter vast my amount of experience different areas of in research was for me. Doing an MRes has allowed me biology in terms of research topics and techniques. to work in two different labs throughout the academic year Jagjeet is again full-time student, who her MRes in Molecular and and a research vast amount of completed experience in different areas of Cellular Biology at the University of Birmingham. She is currently studying towards a PhD in biology terms of research and techniques. Immunology andin Immunotherapy at Birmingham,topics having completed her undergraduate degree

in Biological Sciences with Professional Placement at Aston University, which included an Erasmus in France.student, who completed her MRes in Molecular and Jagjeet isplacement a full-time research Cellular Biology at the University of Birmingham. She is currently studying towards a PhD in Immunology and Immunotherapy at Birmingham, having her undergraduate degree To read Jagjeet’s full profile or ask hercompleted a question visit: in Biological Sciences with Professional Placement at Aston University, which included an pg.bham.ac.uk/mentor/j-kaurs Erasmus placement in France.

To read Jagjeet’s full profile or ask her a question visit: pg.bham.ac.uk/mentor/j-kaurs


| aged research |

| BIOSCIENCE TODAY |

Firms call for major R&I investment to tackle environmental crises Major investment into research and innovation (R&I) is needed to enable UK businesses to address the global biodiversity and climate crises, according to a new report. The report by the Valuing Nature Programme –­­ which brings together businesses, research institutions, government agencies and NGOs - is based on feedback from 200 organisations across all these sectors, half of which were UK firms. It says the UK business community needs access to solid scientific research in order to: 1. better measure and value nature in both non-monetary and monetary terms 2. better assess business impacts and dependencies on nature 3. make better business decisions and develop new business models that reduce impacts on nature 4. report on and disclose these impacts and dependencies This in turn will help the UK deliver on its net zero greenhouse gas emissions target and ambition to reverse biodiversity loss, and enable transition towards a more resilient and sustainable post-pandemic economy. R&I needs highlighted in the report, Towards a Natural Assets Research and Innovation Agenda in support of UK Business and Policy, include: improving business-relevant research and data on natural assets developing frameworks/standards that level the playing field for businesses taking action for nature expanding pilot projects developing new business models and solutions to protect and restore natural assets developing efficient natural asset markets, and stimulating investment in business solutions that deliver gains for nature assessing business risks and resilience in relation to natural assets

enhancing knowledge exchange between academia and business and providing training for both academics and business professionals on measuring and valuing natural assets for business Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman of Barclays plc, one the many business leaders who contributed to the report, says: “Companies understand they have responsibility for their environmental footprint, and that it is no longer someone else’s job. Business ‘gets it’ now and fully recognises the climate and biodiversity emergencies. However, there is still an enormous amount of confusion and uncertainty about how to do this. “We are very interested to know how we can value nature better, make the right decisions and come up with a set of sustainable business models. Business cannot do this alone. It is keen to come to the ‘party’, but needs help – including research funding – to help R&I teams make the necessary advances.” Andy Griffiths, Head of Value Chain Sustainability, Nestle UK&I, said: “More and more businesses are recognising their dependence on nature and the need to invest into the enhancement of multi-functional landscapes, to mitigate the associated risks they face. To accelerate this transition, one of the crucial elements is the appropriate funding of underpinning research, to support organisations in their decision making and optimise their impact.” The report follows a workshop and conference at The Royal Society, London, in February organised by the Valuing Nature Programme, which is funded by the Government and UK research councils. It draws on the programme’s work with different sectors over the past six years. A second new report produced by the programme reveals that the R&I needs resonate strongly with the policymakers, and that there is strong interest from Government, devolved administrations, and non-departmental public bodies to engage with businesses and academia in furthering natural assets R&I. Companies and other organisations can signal their interest in the Natural Assets R&I Agenda by signing an online pledge form: https://valuing-nature.net/natural-assets-pledge

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U

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Os

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Ir

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Hs (270)

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Promethium 2 8 18 32 21 9 2

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Np (237)

Neptunium

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Mt (276)

2 8 18 32 22 9 2

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Sb

83

Bi

207.2

114

Fl (289)

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2 8 18 18 5

52

Te

208.9804

115

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2 8 18 27 8 2

Dy

2 8 18 28 8 2

67

162.5

Terbium

97

66

98

68

164.93032

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Ho

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167.259

Holmium 2 8 18 32 28 8 2

99

Er

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Berkelium

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Californium

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2 8 18 30 8 2

69

Moscovium

Tm

100

Einsteinium

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Fermium

70

168.93421

Erbium 2 8 18 32 29 8 2

2 8 18 31 8 2

Lv (293)

2 8 18 32 30 8 2

101

Md (258)

Yb

2 8 18 32 8 2

71

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103

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102

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2 8 18 32 18 6

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Lr (262)

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2 8 18 32 32 18 6

117

(294)

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86

2 8 18 32 32 18 7

118

Xe

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2 8 18 32 18 8

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126.90447

Livermorium

173.054

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53

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Br

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20.1797

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127.6

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Ne

35.453

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Selenium

121.76

2 8 18 32 18 4

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32.065

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Fluorine

S

Antimony

Lead 2 8 18 32 32 18 3

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74.9216

Tin

82

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118.71

2 8 18 32 18 3

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114.818

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112

Si

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69.723

2 8 18 18 2

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O

14.0067

28.0855

2 8 18 3

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Nitrogen

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Gallium

112.411

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2 8 18 32 32 17 1

31

Cadmium

196.966569

158.92535

2 8 18 32 25 9 2

48

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N

12.0107

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Silver

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10.811

65.38

107.8682

195.084

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Europium

47

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78

192.217

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46

102.9055

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58.6934

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183.84

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238.02891

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54.938045

95.96

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42

180.9488

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178.48

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51.9961

92.90638

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58

Nb

24

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138.90547

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2 8 18 18 8 2

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88.90585

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44.955912

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Sc

2 8 9 2

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132.9054

87

21

6

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