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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S024220/1
Title: EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Automated Chemical Synthesis Enabled by Digital Molecular Technologies
Principal Investigator: Gaunt, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Lapkin, Professor A Colwell, Dr LJ
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Arcinova Astex Therapeutics AstraZeneca UK Limited
BASF Blacktrace Holdings Limited Cambridge Display Technology Ltd (CDT)
CMCL Innovations Diamond Light Source ELI Lilly and Company
Elsevier Information Systems GmbH Exscientia Ltd Google
Heptares Therapeutics Merck Ltd Sentinel Oncology
Syngenta Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Scheme: Centre for Doctoral Training
Starts: 01 June 2019 Ends: 30 November 2027 Value (£): 6,229,128
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Analytical Science Catalysis & Applied Catalysis
Chemical Biology Chemical Synthetic Methodology
Physical Organic Chemistry Reactor Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
07 Nov 2018 EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training Interview Panel K – November 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Efficient synthesis remains a bottleneck in the drug discovery process. Access to novel biologically active molecules to treat diseases continues to be a major bottleneck in the pharmaceutical industry, costing many lives and many £millions per year in healthcare investment and loss in productivity. In 2016, the Pharmaceutical Industry's estimated annual global spend on research and development (R&D) was over $157 billion. At a national level, the pharmaceutical sector accounted for almost half of the UK's 2016 £16.5bn R&D expenditure, with £700 million invested in pre-clinical small molecule synthesis, and 995 pharmaceutical related enterprises (big pharma, SMEs, biotech & CROs) employing around 23,000 personnel in UK R&D. The impact of this sector and its output on the nation's productivity is indisputable and worthy of investment in new approaches and technologies to fuel further innovation and development.

With an increasing focus on precision medicine and genetic understanding of disease there will be to a dramatic increase in the number of potent and highly selective molecular targets; identifying genetically informed targets could double success rates in clinical development (Nat. Gen. 2015, 47, 856). However, despite tremendous advances in chemical research, we still cannot prepare all the molecules of potential interest for drug development due to cost constraints and tight commercial timelines. By way of example, Merck quote that 55% of the time, a benchmarked catalytic reaction fails to deliver the desired product; this statistic will be representative across pharma and will apply to many comparable processes. If more than half of the cornerstone reactions we attempt fail, then we face considerable challenges that will demand a radical and innovative a step change in synthesis. Such a paradigm shift in synthesis logic will need to be driven by a new generation of highly skilled academic and industry researchers who can combine innovative chemical syntis and technological advances with fluency in the current revolution in data-driven science, machine learning methods and artificial intelligence. Synthetic chemists with such a set of skills do not exist anywhere in the world, yet the worldwide demand for individuals with the ability to work across these disciplines is increasing rapidly, and will be uniquely addressed by this proposed CDT. By training the next generation of researchers to tackle problems in synthetic chemistry using digital molecular technologies, we will create a unique, highly skilled research workforce that will address these challenges and place UK academic and industrial sectors at the frontier of molecule building science.

The aspiration of next-generation chemical synthesis should be to prepare any molecule of interest without being limited by the synthetic methodologies and preparation technologies we have relied on to date. Synthetic chemists with the necessary set of such skills and exposure to the new technologies, required to innovate beyond the current limitations and deliver the paradigm shift needed to meet future biomedical challenges, are lacking in both academia and industry.

To meet these challenges, the University of Cambridge proposes to establish a Centre of Doctoral Training in Automated Chemical Synthesis Enabled by Digital Molecular Technologies to recruit, train and develop the next generation of researchers to innovate and lead chemical synthesis of the future.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.cam.ac.uk