Reducing the cost and time of drug development

University of Manchester researchers have invented a new technology that speeds up the process and reduces the cost of drug discovery.

Impact highlights

  • Using pioneering technology innovated at Manchester, new drugs have been developed at less than 10% of the typical industry cost.
  • University spin-out C4X Discovery Ltd is now a multimillion-pound company and used by global pharmaceutical companies to develop safer drugs.
  • C4X Discovery Ltd's lead candidate drug, C4X3256, has been developed in a fraction of the time normally required and with fewer side effects. 

Meeting the need for faster and more accurate measuring of drug shapes

Modern drug design for potential new medicines relies on the ability to predict the effectiveness of small molecules that bind to a biological target. This requires accurate information on the 3D shape and flexibility of the molecules in order to achieve the best binding. Existing ways of gathering 3D shape information were either inaccurate, expensive, time-consuming, or could not measure molecule flexibility.

Conformetrix, the University’s innovative new technology, measures the 3D shapes and flexibility of small molecules faster and with more precision than any process before it. By speeding up and cutting the cost of drug discovery, it is helping to drive the development of world-leading medicines for the benefit of patients with a range of diseases, including substance addiction such as to nicotine or cocaine. 

Dr Andrew Almond.

Dr Andrew Almond

Reader at Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at The University of Manchester. 

View academic profile

Exploring the uniqueness of Conformetrix

Conformetrix uses real-world nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data, rather than traditional theoretical data, to calculate the shapes of small molecules. NMR is an analytical chemistry technique that uses a powerful magnetic field to provide detailed information about the molecule at the atomic level. However, this alone cannot quantify flexibility.

Researchers started by using the Conformetrix technique to explore the 3D structure of a highly flexible, complex sugar molecule called hyaluronan. Successfully resolving the shape of this molecule was a world first and validated the process. From this, the team at Manchester were able to apply it to any small, flexible molecule – including drugs – making it an attractive proposition for the global pharmaceutical sector.

From innovation to successful commercialisation

The project’s lead researchers, Dr Andrew Almond and Dr Charles Blundell, patented the technology before setting up the spin-out company, Conformetrix Ltd (now C4X Discovery Ltd) in 2008 to commercially license Conformetrix.

C4X Discovery Ltd used Conformetrix to begin the development of several new drugs, which led to the company raising £31 million after it floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2014.

“Our patented conformetrix technology platform is at the heart of the C4X Discovery Ltd drug discovery engine, enabling the rapid development of new and better drugs.”

C4X Discovery Ltd

Accelerating drug discovery for C4XD 

C4X Discovery Ltd runs up to 11 drug discovery programmes covering immunology, inflammation, neurology, neurodegeneration and cancer.

The company’s lead programme looks to treat addiction across a broad range of substance-use disorders by targeting the craving process itself. Substance addiction is an area of unmet need costing the United States $740 billion annually in healthcare, crime and lost productivity (US National Institute on Drug Abuse).

C4X Discovery Ltd's lead candidate drug, C4X3256, has been developed at less than 10% of the typical industry cost and in a fraction of the time normally required. The drug has substantially fewer side effects and is now in clinical trials via a $294 million licensing deal with Indivior PLC.

Transforming new medicine development worldwide

Conformetrix is now being used by several global pharmaceutical companies to advance drug development programmes. As well as enjoying substantial time and cost savings, they are also able to develop safer drugs with fewer side effects than those discovered using traditional methods. 

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