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Spin-out wins Innovate UK grant to develop ‘virtual’ drug lab

Posted on 7 January 2016

A University of York spin-out backed by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub, has been awarded a £300,000 grant from the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK, sponsored by NC3Rs, to develop a ‘virtual laboratory’ to establish the environmental impact of drugs earlier in discovery and development.

Professor Jon Timmis, CEO of SimOmics.

University spinout SimOmics will develop the virtual laboratory which has the potential to reduce both the cost of environmental assessments and the need for animal research.

Working with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the University’s Environment Department and Exeter School of Biosciences SimOmics is developing a pioneering “Virtual Fish EcoToxicology Laboratory" that will mathematically model the exposure, uptake, metabolism and effects of future drugs on different species of fish before the drug is developed. The models will also enable scientists to prioritise legacy drugs lacking chronic fish toxicity data for definitive environmental impact assessments, in a cost effective manner that will also reduce the need for animal research.

Regulations require that before authorisation, new active pharmaceutical ingredients must undergo an environmental risk assessment (ERA).The SimOmics “Evidence Bioscience” platform will be the first in the world that can accurately predict the end-to-end journey that drugs will take from the patient’s body into wastewater and river systems, and even predict their effect on fish reproduction and growth. It may also have the potential to simulate the effect of future drugs on humans.

In the UK alone, the chemical industry, including pharmaceutical firms, spends tens of millions of pounds each year conducting toxicology tests on fish. This new technology could reduce that cost by a third. Standard toxicology tests, involving a fish experiment, can take anything from a few days to one year to conduct, depending on its complexity and scope and the mode of action of the drug or chemical being tested. The SimOmics system could perform similar tests - using computer simulations - in just minutes.

The transparent and evidence-based virtual laboratory will also generate a robust audit trail of data subsets from each test. This will enable companies to demonstrate that they have tested all active pharmaceutical ingredients to a high standard. AstraZeneca is contributing their expertise in target conservation, read across and environmental toxicology data to the project.

SimOmics is also part of a consortium that recently secured almost £1m from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) to develop a “virtual laboratory” to boost the search for new treatments for leishmaniasis, a tropical disease responsible for an estimated 30,000 deaths a year.

And SimOmics recently developed a powerful web-based tool - the “SimOmics Evidence” platform – that will allow drug companies to submit new drug ingredients for ‘virtual drug trials’ to help reduce R&D costs and refine drug development before animal tests and clinical trials.

Professor Jon Timmis, CEO of SimOmics, said: “Our technology will dramatically de-risk the testing of drugs and their interactions with fish. We also see future applications for testing the environmental impact of everything from new pesticides to printing ink. Ultimately, we could also model the effect of future drugs on humans to ensure that new treatments are already refined and developed to a much higher standard - before the first clinical trials ever take place.”

He added: “The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub first helped me clearly identify routes to commercialisation for our innovation and how to develop the idea further, and the Enterprise Fellowship gave me the time to do that.  I am convinced I would not be where I am now without the support of the RAEng.”

SimOmics was formed in 2014 from over seven years of research by Professor Jon Timmis, Professor of Intelligent and Adaptive Systems at the University of York’s Department of Electronics and MRC funded Senior Lecturer in Immunology, Dr Mark Coles, of the Department of Biology at York and Hull York Medical School.

Further details of the company can be found here:


Further information:

  • The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is a national resource for the UK’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs. The Hub forms part of the Academy’s commitment to promote engineering excellence by identifying and supporting the founders and leaders of tomorrow’s high-tech companies. It provides money-can’t-buy bespoke support and one-to-one mentoring from its Fellowship, which includes prominent tech entrepreneurs such as business icons Mike Lynch OBE FREng, Sir Robin Saxby FREng, Anne Glover CBE HonFREng and Ian Shott CBE FREng. Further information can be found here:
  • SimOmics was developed from work sponsored by the Centre for Chronic Diseases, The Royal Society through a Wolfson Research Merit award, and The Royal Academy of Engineering through the Enterprise Fellowship scheme.
    • The NC3Rs is the UK's national organisation which leads the discovery and application of new technologies and approaches to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals for scientific purposes (the 3Rs). It collaborates with scientists and organisations from across the life sciences sector, nationally and internationally, including universities, the pharmaceutical, chemical and consumer products industries, other research funders, and regulatory authorities. It funds 3Rs research, training and career development, support open innovation and commercialisation of 3Rs technologies, and stimulate changes in policy, regulations and practice relating to the use of animals.



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