EMBL-EBI Industry Partnerships: Work with us to solve your data challenges

Partnering with industry has been a core part of EMBL-EBI’s mission right from the very beginning and a significant number of our users come from this sector. As we celebrate an incredible 25 years of industry collaboration next year, let’s hear from Andrew Leach, the new Head of Industry Partnerships at EMBL-EBI to find out a bit more.

Image: Dr Andrew Leach, joined EMBL-EBI in August 2016 following a 20 year career at GSK Research and Development. He took on the role as Head of Industry Partnerships in the summer this year, and will also continue as Head of Chemical Biology.

Industry Partnerships: What does this mean at EMBL-EBI?

Industry Partnerships at EMBL-EBI is about helping to connect public and industry science. We aim to foster and facilitate collaboration, knowledge exchange and networking between scientists and technologists at EMBL-EBI and their counterparts working in industry. We work across multiple sectors and with organisations from very large multinationals to very small start-ups.

Tell us more about the opportunities for scientists in industry to interact with EMBL-EBI.

EMBL-EBI’s Industry Programme is a subscription-based programme for global companies who are using EMBL-EBI’s data and resources as part of their research and development. Representatives from the member companies meet regularly in a forum where we share details of the latest innovations in EMBL-EBI’s services and research. The programme also organises a series of knowledge exchange workshops that explore new emerging areas for R&D. These events are open to any employee of the member companies. The programme also provides a great opportunity for scientists to meet their peers in a pre-competitive, science-oriented environment to discuss the latest developments.

We are always keen to hear of opportunities to explore new strategic partnerships with industry. Open Targets is an excellent example; this ground-breaking public-private consortium was established in 2014 with the overall goal of improving how we identify and prioritise drug targets. Open Targets currently involves six partners: EMBL-EBI, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol Myers Squibb, Takeda and Sanofi.

We also have a proud history of research collaborations that bring together expertise from academia and industry to work on a common research problem or to address a particular data or technology challenge. One particular advantage of collaborating with EMBL-EBI is that we have tremendous flexibility in the way that collaborations can be set up, from small projects lasting a few months, to much larger projects. Key to success is active participation and commitment from everyone involved.

What about smaller companies? 

Every company has to start somewhere and we are committed to engage with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-up enterprises. These are very often the drivers of innovation, and we find that such organisations make extensive use of the resources available at EMBL-EBI. We actively work with organisations such as OneNucleus, the UK Trade and Investment agency (UKTI), the InnovateUK Bioinformatics knowledge-transfer network and the ELIXIR SME and Innovation Forum to showcase the opportunities at EMBL-EBI. Of course, we are also very keen to hear from any smaller company interested in collaborating more directly with us on a particular problem.

What can be achieved by connecting with industry?

Having worked in industry myself (for many years at GSK), I know that industry science is often just as cutting-edge as in traditional academic circles – but historically it has been much less visible due in part to commercial sensitivities together with the fact that publication was not seen as a key goal in industry. These attitudes are changing now; there is a real drive within industry to collaborate externally and especially with leading academic groups and institutions. Industry can bring “real world” applications of the resources and research that we do at the EMBL-EBI; it can be very rewarding to see how the work we do can translate into practical applications. Plus, it can be a way for students and post-docs to get some insights into what a career in industry looks like, and potentially for industry to identify potential recruits for the future!

What would you like to see in the future for Industry Partnerships at EMBL-EBI?

I would like to see our connections with industry continue to grow and strengthen. We have historically had very strong connections with the Pharma and biotech sectors and it would be good to see us strengthen our relationships in other areas of bioscience and also with relevant data science and technology sectors. Of course, we are always keen to create new large-scale strategic partnerships such as Open Targets but we also recognise that a smaller-scale, one-on-one collaboration for example between an SME and an EMBL-EBI Principle Investigator can be equally fruitful. We also want to make further steps to encourage entrepreneurs; this includes working with Jo Mills (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre Manager) who with her team is creating a new Startup School for genomics and biodata. This will support early-stage ideas and provide knowledge and confidence to develop them into future products or services.

We always welcome opportunities to explore new partnerships and ventures.

Find out moreGet in touch

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EMBL’s Corporate Partnership Programme celebrates 10 years of impact

As EMBL’s Advanced Training Centre passes its 10th anniversary, Corporate Partnership Manager Jonathan Rothblatt reflects on the ATC Corporate Partnership Programme and how it promotes training for outstanding scientists.

Jonathan Rothblatt, Corporate Partnership Manager at EMBL. PHOTO: Jonathan Rothblatt

Since its opening in March 2010, the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) has served as a forum for the scientific exchange of new ideas, data, approaches and tools. An important component of this is the ATC Corporate Partnership Programme (CPP), which aims to connect companies with the latest developments in molecular biology and build successful long-term relationships between EMBL and corporate partners.

EMBL Advanced Training Centre built in 2010. PHOTO: KARL HUBER FOTODESIGN

Supporting outstanding scientists

The support that industry partners provide through their membership in the CPP, ensures that outstanding scientists – from PhD students to established investigators – are not excluded from attending a course or conference, or working in an EMBL laboratory as a visiting scientist, because of a lack of funds to cover conference fees or travel expenses. Since 2010, CPP funding has provided fellowships covering registration fees and travel costs to more than 2,100 participants from over 90 countries, attending more than 350 EMBL or EMBO courses, conferences, or symposia.

In addition to the significant impact of their financial support, the engagement and collaboration of corporate partners is crucial in the development and delivery of EMBL’s courses and conferences. For example, of the 33 training courses held at EMBL Heidelberg in 2019, 11 were co-organised with CPP partners. Another example is the EMBL Conference ‘Expanding the Druggable Proteome with Chemical Biology’, which took place in February 2020. This conference, co-funded by the CPP, explored advances at the interface between academic and industry research. The scientific organisers included two CPP partners alongside academic leaders in the field (read the interview with one of the organisers Gerard Drewes here and check out the winning posters here).

Building mutually beneficial relationships

The strong involvement of EMBL scientists at all levels is another crucial factor in enabling the CPP to establish and develop mutually beneficial relationships with its corporate partners. The alliance of the CPP with its corporate partners is one facet of EMBL’s engagement with industry – in particular the life sciences business sector. This compliments the activities of EMBL’s technology transfer partner EMBLEM, the EMBL Course and Conference Office, the EMBL-EBI Industry Programme, and direct interactions with industry partners by EMBL group and team leaders and heads of core facilities.

With two new partners joining the CPP in 2019 and another already this year, the CPP has grown to 19 members, bringing together EMBL and global leaders in a range of business sectors, including biopharmaceuticals, diagnostics, information technology, research and clinical instrumentation, and laboratory products.

Members of the EMBL ATC Corporate Partnership Programme

We look forward to seeing the programme continue to evolve and grow in future years, always striving to deliver outstanding value and maintain its impact on the future of science.

For further information, contact Jonathan Rothblatt (jonathan.rothblatt@embl.de, +49 6221 387 8799), or visit embl.org/cpp.

This article was originally published in Issue 95 of EMBLetc. magazine.

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Using chemical biology to expand the druggable proteome

Gerard Drewes
Head of Science, GSK Cellzome, Germany

In 2020 the EMBL Resource Development team and  industry partners of the EMBL Corporate Partnership Programme will bring together academic and industrial scientists with interests in chemical biology, chemogenomic libraries, pharmacology, medicinal chemistry and bioinformatics for the EMBL Conference: Expanding the Druggable Proteome with Chemical Biology (5-7 February 2020).

We spoke to co-organiser Gerard Drewes from GSK Cellzome about how chemical biology is helping to expand the druggable proteome.

How would you define the “druggable proteome”?

This is the fraction of our >20,000 human proteins that can be functionally modulated by a drug. Drugs can be small molecules or large molecules such as therapeutic antibodies. Estimates of how many proteins are “tractable” vary widely, I think there may be around 5,000. Only a subset of these 5,000 would be “druggable” which means that modulating them with a drug will also have a therapeutic benefit.

How are advances in chemical biology helping to expand the druggable proteome?

Small molecules are still the main modality for intracellular targets. Deep pockets, typical for enzymes, are more easily tractable than shallow pockets typical for protein-protein interactions. Chemical biology has developed tools to explore different types of pockets. I am excited in particular by the potential of DNA-encoded libraries, and small fragment approaches with covalent modes of action. Some of these compounds will just be “binders” but these can be made into target degraders as PROTACs.

How can these advances help our understanding of disease biology?

If we had more chemical probes, we could use these in a standardised, controlled way to interrogate target function in cell-based models, organoids, and in some cases animal models. Yes, we have gene editing now, but that is not the same as pharmacological modulation.

We also need in vitro models that translate better to in vivo. Our old immortalised cell lines won’t do, we are going to need more work in primary cells, organoids, etc.

What are the main challenges facing scientists in this field?

Lack of standardised probe sets. Bad probe compounds, e.g. with bad selectivity, are still used and wrong conclusions drawn.

Lack of translational in vitro models.

Why is it important to bring industry and academia together to discuss this topic?

Academia brings creativity, agility, fast progress of new ideas and concepts, thinking out of the box.

Industry sometimes lacks these but knows how to develop a compound into a drug, which requires a host of technologies not readily available to academia. Also, industry requires a new generation of drug targets with better validation, and historically targets are often discovered in academia. Once a target hypothesis exists, academics and industry should ideally collaborate to figure out how to drug it.

What will be the main highlight of this conference?

I see many but still hope to be surprised!

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