By Ed Owen, Head of Engagement and Communications, Medicines Discovery Catapult

Published: 24 April 2017

At first glance it may seem rather odd. But there’s been one rather important voice largely absent in the long and expensive process to discover and develop new medicines – that of the very people who use them.

The explanation for this lies largely in that the traditional drug discovery model has been shaped predominantly by scientific and commercial concerns reinforced by ‘regulatory’ issues maintaining a distance between producer and consumer.

And, to be fair, for many decades this model has served society well with countless new medicines being developed for the betterment of many billions of people worldwide.

Yet with the advances in genomics, molecular biology and medical technologies, this old model is no longer able to deliver the more targeted and personalised drugs of the future that offer such promise to those with existing health conditions.

So we need novel and innovative approaches that put their voice at the heart of drug discovery and development helping to shape the process around their needs and interests at the beginning of the process rather than just being passive consumers of products at its end.

With big pharma moving out of early discovery, no single research player can make this happen alone. So collaboration is vital and, alongside the UK’s biotech sector, established pharma industry and world-class academic expertise, medical research charities have a crucial role to play.

They, first and foremost, research charities can help bring the unique insight of those with particular conditions into the discovery process making for quicker, more efficient and, ultimately, more effective therapies down the line.

But there’s more too, such as the knowledge of the wider condition-specific landscape and relationships within it, their record of funding academic research and their trusted stewardship of rich and invaluable data.

By deploying these and other assets more actively into translational research offers charities the prospect of creating far greater impact on the lives of their beneficiaries.

But, let’s be honest, it also requires a shift in mindset from many charities themselves to allow for a more engaged relationship with industry – and a recognition and willingness to accept that drug discovery is as much about failure as success.

The AMRC are doing some great work with member charities in this area, and the Medicines Discovery Catapult can help too. As an independent, not-for-profit company, our interest lies solely in helping to move great potential drug candidates to clinical trials as quickly as possible and we are helping to build condition-specific collaborations to do just that in key areas.

Having spent almost five years leading one of the UK’s best medical research charities (OK I’m biased!), I was excited about working with the Catapult precisely because of its vision and commitment to putting the patient voice at the heart of drug discovery.

The potential for positive impact on the people who most need the therapies of the future is enormous.

If you want to know more go to our website at or email me on [email protected]

Ed Owen, Head of Engagement and Communications at Medicines Discovery Catapult

You can also hear from Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive at AMRC, about the importance of collaboration on the Medicines Discovery Catapult website.