Sunday, 7 September 2014

Understanding partnerships with our partners at the UTC

At the UTC, we are here to listen to our partners, the future employers and educators of our students, and to embed their values into the enrichment opportunities for our students. We are all delighted at the recent announcement by RedX Pharma that they have signed a lucrative "deal" with Astra Zeneca a company that has its origins in Merseyside and Sweden, but whose reach is now firmly global. From its origins in the pioneering days of the Chemical Industry, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), formed from the union of a diverse array of chemical manufacturers, was split into a number of separate entities, one of which, Zeneca merged shortly after (in 1999) with the Swedish drug company Astra, to produce one of the most successful pharmaceutical companies of the last decade right here in the North West (AZ has bases all over the world, but Alderley Park was, until recently a significant centre of operations in the drug development world). The announcement of the "deal" between AZ and RedX Oncology (where many of our students have enjoyed challenging and fulfilling placements over the year) can only be excellent news for the UTC and the region in general. It is a story, that has its origins over many years of pioneering start-ups, collaborations, mergers, acquisitions and it is mirrored by the partnerships and interactions that take place between molecules in the body that have been targeted for therapy.

Photo of Liverpool Life Sciences University Technical College students wearing Redx Pharma lab coats while they workYou may recall Phil Ingham's blog earlier in the year, in which he described the hedgehog pathway drug discovery programme that he has been involved in (which has led to the new anti cancer drug Vismodegib). Molecules in this "domain" of cellular and developmental biology have also provided a focus for efforts at RedX oncology and AZ. The Hedgehog pathway (as Phil discussed earlier: search for Phil Ingham in the Google Blog Search field, RHS) involves a cascade of interactions, or partnerships, which modulate the function of the downstream protein(s) leading to the triggering of a major cellular and sometimes tissue changes. These pathways are at fault in some diseases, or can be redirected to help restore otherwise "broken" biological functions. One of the characteristics of signalling pathways of this kind is that the proteins are often in tiny quantities, are difficult to work with because they tend to be insoluble and/or unstable in vitro: the fact that they are also chemically modified by enzymes (we refer to this as post-translational modification, or PTM for short), makes them challenging in terms of analysis. Nevertheless, as we have learnt over the last 30 years in particular, the road leading to an understanding of cancer (through work on the molecular biology of oncogenes and tumour suppressors) is paved with major challenges. However, the opportunity for UTC students to play a part, however small, in this important journey, with the support of partners like RedX Pharma is one of the reasons why the UTC vision is so powerful for young scientists.

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