The University of Southampton

Innovative partnership to revolutionise imaging technologies for drug development

Published: 29 April 2021

Research partners from the University of Southampton, M Squared and AstraZeneca will advance imaging technologies that improve drug and medicine discovery in a new multi-million pound collaboration.

The Prosperity Partnership, which includes world-leading laser expertise from the Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics (ZIPN), is set to place Southampton at the heart of innovative drug development.

The collaboration is one of nine Prosperity Partnerships announced by Science Minister Amanda Solloway to be funded by a total £75 million investment from business, academia and UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Professor Sumeet Mahajan, Professor in Molecular Biophotonics and Imaging, says: "This Prosperity Partnership will bring together technology developers and end-users to create transformative opportunities in quantitative imaging of 3D biological samples.

"Novel volume imaging technologies at unprecedented resolution and speed, augmented by machine learning, will bring about a step change in the pre-clinical testing of drug candidates for pharma industry and for evaluating treatments."

The ambitious research will bring together experts from Southampton's School of Chemistry, School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) with the ZIPN's renowned Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC).

Professor David Richardson, Deputy Director of the ZIPN, says: "The ORC is delighted to be participating in this exciting project and look forward to working with the partners to demonstrate the huge potential of ultrafast fibre laser technology in advanced medical imaging.

"The use of compact, high performance laser sources capable of generating pulses with accurately shaped temporal and spatial beam characteristics should open up new ways of probing biological systems on the nanoscale both from a structural and chemical perspective with the potential to improve the health and lives of people both in the UK and across the world."

The Partnership will develop tools that provide live, high-resolution 3D images on a large scale to determine the impact of drug candidates in living spheroid, organoid and organ-on-a-chip systems that mimic real human physiology.

These living systems are miniaturised yet realistic versions of human tissue and organs that are derived from one or more types of biological cells. This would provide an upgrade on current techniques which rely on the invasive and time-consuming process of using fluorescent light to determine their impact.

Robert Forster, Head of Biophotonics at M Squared, says: "The opportunity the project has to create a step change in shortening the time it takes to bring drug candidates to the clinic is truly exciting."

Since 2017, total investment in Prosperity Partnerships has reached £274 million, including £110 million from EPSRC and UKRI partners and £131 million leveraged from 70 businesses.

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, says: "To tackle key challenges and seize new opportunities we need to harness the world-class expertise of both industry and academia. The Prosperity Partnerships announced do this by supporting collaborations that will develop transformative new technologies with the potential to deliver societal impact and economic growth."

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