A proposal that could bring £60million investment into the life sciences sector in Kent has taken a significant stride forward by securing £50,000 to develop the bid further. The money is seedcorn funding via UK Research and Innovation’s flagship £236m Strength in Places Fund.

If the bid is successful, it will provide funding for an ‘Accelerated Medicines Design and Development’ (AMDD) project to be based in Discovery Park, Sandwich. This would build on an existing concentration of research excellence associated with Pfizer and other companies at Discovery Park, alongside a network of partners.

Advanced digital tools are transforming our understanding of disease and the drug discovery process and the AMDD project intends to focus on the potential of digital technology to speed up the ‘development’ phases of work on new medicines.

Developing a medicine is currently a physical laboratory and experiment intensive process, often taking over a decade at significant cost.  AMDD will bring end to end connectivity and integration of advanced data models and predictive tools to accelerate sophisticated dosage form design (enabling for example, ‘digital twins’ of products and processes in advance of physical development).

In addition the bid aims to enhance the digital skills base, opening up opportunities to the existing workforce and the wider community through the development of a ‘digital community lab’. It will also develop a Kent and Medway Data Trust, enabling appropriate access to patient data from Kent’s growing and diverse population to support research and innovation and drive greater ‘patient centricity’ into the medicines development process.

In particular it aims to enable new medicines for children to be developed faster. The advanced digital technologies that would be available through the project will help scientists to overcome some of the challenges and complexities that they regularly face when developing paediatric medicine.

Developing medicines for children requires special measures to be taken in order to shield them from undue risk. As well as careful clinical trial design and taking account of ethical issues, it also extends to developing age-specific formulations and resolving issues such as difficulties swallowing tablets if a syrup is not available.

The AMDD project will also drive the growth of Kent’s life science cluster through its advanced use of data, simulations and digital technologies in the design of paediatric medicines; enhanced control in advanced manufacturing of complex medicines; and opportunities for commercialisation and skills development.

The bid is being led by Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network in a consortium that includes Discovery Park, LGC, Pfizer, and the University of Kent

The full bid is due to be submitted to the Government in November this year in the hope of securing further funding through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund.

Mayer Schreiber, CEO of Discovery Park, said:

“Alongside our partners in the consortium, Discovery Park is delighted that the potential of the Accelerated Medicines Design and Development project has been recognised. We will be working together to make this exciting project, which will form a pivotal part of our Manufacturing Village vision, a reality, bringing real patient and economic benefit.”

Melissa Ream, Digital and AI Consultant at Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network, said:

“KSS AHSN is proud to collaborate with partners across the health and life sciences to unlock the power of data and advanced digital tools to get more personalised, sophisticated medicines to NHS patients faster.

“The Accelerated Medicines Design and Development project will drive the progress of an accelerated medicines cluster in Kent and Medway, supporting businesses in engaging with advanced digital technology and commercialising innovation. It will also enhance digital skills, opening up opportunities to the existing and future workforce through the development of a ‘digital skills hub’.”

Professor Chris Farmer from the University of Kent said:

“The Kent and Medway data Trust (KERNEL) will allow us to support academic research across the region and provide valuable linked data for the wider research community.

“This innovation will support the wider bid and our life sciences and industry partners in developing new treatments.”

Julian Braybrook, Director of Measurement Science, National Measurement Laboratory at LGC said:

“We are pleased to be involved in this bid. As a leading measurement and testing company and host to the National Measurement Laboratory, LGC can provide access to a unique set of measurement tools needed to accelerate both the digital drug discovery and design as well as the efficient control of drug manufacturing processes.

“Moving to in-silico drug design models will also require special attention to rigorous statistical approaches to handling measurement data, at all stages of drug development, which can also benefit from LGC’s product quality and regulatory expertise.”

Julian Thompson, Vice President Global Regulatory Operations and Sandwich Site Head for Pfizer, said:

“Pfizer has a long and proud history at Sandwich, in which time we have helped bring many innovations to patients in the UK and globally. This bid is very exciting for all partners involved and has the potential to not only ensure our region is at the cutting edge of digital medicines design, but also to further strengthen relationships with our regional partners in academia and the wider life sciences sector.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the power of partnerships, and this bid is a fantastic example of how collaboration can support innovation and ultimately help improve lives for patients in the future.”

UK Research and Innovation lead on the Strength in Places Fund, David Sweeney, said:

“I am delighted to be able to award early-stage funding to this bid which has great potential to benefit the local area through supporting innovation and sustained growth, and strengthen collaboration between industry and our world-class research base.”

Strength in Places Fund panel chair, Dame Kate Barker, said:

“The Strength in Places panel was pleased to recommend this bid for early-stage funding. It provides evidence of excellent research that meets business need and great potential for collaboration, by bringing together a consortia to contribute to increased growth and productivity in areas of local economic activity.”