Imperial College research collaboration breaks new ground for drug discovery

A unique new research collaboration, jointly funded by AstraZeneca and Imperial College London, will bring together some of the brightest scientific minds to address some of the greatest challenges for drug discovery today.

The exciting initiative builds on our longstanding scientific relationships with investigators at Imperial College, one of the top 10 research universities in the world. It will generate productive, high-impact science to support future advances in life changing therapies.

The collaboration has two parts:

  • Junior Research Fellowship programme to attract high flying, early-career scientists worldwide with the best ideas for answering ‘the big questions’ in drug discovery and development
  • An Innovation Fund to support outstanding hypothesis-testing research projects proposed jointly by scientists from AstraZeneca and Imperial College


This important collaboration aligns with our strategic objective of reaching out and supporting the best science, wherever it exists around the world. We are excited to be collaborating with scientists from Imperial College to help translate innovative science into novel technologies or medicines.

Menelas Pangalos Executive Vice President, Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit and Business Development, AstraZeneca

This new partnership with AstraZeneca is a significant development for Imperial as we strengthen our industry collaborations. The collaboration will further Imperial’s excellent fundamental science and lay the groundwork for innovative medicines and technologies which will benefit patients with a range of diseases and health conditions.

Professor Alice Gast President, Imperial College London


Through our carefully chosen collaborations, we are creating a distinctive scientific environment for drug discovery breakthroughs that none of us could achieve alone.

Since 2014, our scientists have been working alongside those at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) on a pre-clinical research projects aimed at better understanding of disease biology. Recently, using high resolution Cryo-EM, scientists at AstraZeneca and the LMB defined the structure of human ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) protein in different functional states. This is a ‘world first’ for this important player in the cell’s DNA damage response (DDR) system and is a prime therapeutic target for cancer therapies.

In May 2017, we agreed a new five-year research initiative with the Francis Crick Institute, which will bring together their specialised discovery skills with our R&D expertise, to accelerate research into cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as cancer.

We were delighted to receive such high quality research proposals in the Fund’s first year, and these were judged by the same rigorous criteria used by Imperial’s own ‘Confidence in Concepts’ awards scheme. This reinforces and validates the quality of the science and competitiveness of the five projects that have won support in 2017.

Steve Rees Vice-President, Reagents and Assay Development, AstraZeneca


This year’s winning projects under the AstraZeneca-Imperial College Innovation Fund include:

1. High speed imaging for 3D cell culture systems
Growing cells in 3D structures has huge potential advantages over traditional ‘flat surface’ cell culture systems, though there are challenges too. The physiology is much closer to how cells grow into organs and tissues in the body, but it’s hard to see what’s happening in cells at the centre of these ‘spheroids’.

That’s why a research project on light sheet microscopy was chosen for Innovation Fund support. It will enable scientists to see cells faster and more clearly than with other microscopy techniques – deep inside multicellular spheroid systems.


Investing in research into this innovative form of microscopy will enable us to harness the power of 3D in vitro cultures such as spheroids, organoids and organ-on-chip models to improve our understanding of cell biology and explore new targets for safe and effective medicines.

Delyan Ivanov Senior Research Scientist, AstraZeneca


2. Signposting next generation cough suppressants
Chronic idiopathic cough is a debilitating problem for which there have been no new medicines for over 50 years. Research has shown that the TRPV4-ATP pathway plays a key role in respiratory reflexes and that protease-activated receptor-2 (PAR-2) is an important driver of this mechanism.

By funding an investigation that will dig deeper into PAR-2 activation in chronic cough, we are seeking new insights that could lead to a drug discovery project aimed at treating cough in a totally new way.


Funding for our research gives us the opportunity to rapidly answer important questions about the potential for blocking PAR-2 in order to help patients who suffer from a long term, debilitating cough that doesn’t respond to today’s medicines.

Professor Maria Belvisi Head of Respiratory Pharmacology, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London


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