AstraZeneca: Helping SMEs overcome bottlenecks in early drug discovery

New research partnerships give SMEs access to Acoustic Mist Ionization Mass Spectrometry

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Today, Medicines Discovery Catapult announced their collaboration with AstraZeneca. Their aim is to advance the adoption of Acoustic Mist Ionization Mass Spectrometry (AMI-MS) within the UK by providing SMEs with access to the technology for drug discovery and development.


What is AMI-MS?

Acoustic liquid dispensing, first pioneered by Labcyte, utilizes the gentle energy of sound waves to move minute quantities of liquid with precision and accuracy. Following the collaboration of AstraZeneca and Waters, this technology was enhanced to create a mass spectrometry (MS) friendly mist of nano-droplets in a process called Acoustic Mist Ionization.

Mass spectrometry is an analytical chemistry technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio and abundance of gas-phase ions in a sample to help identify the amount and type of chemicals present.

Unlike standard mass specs, where a needle is used to aspirate and spray the sample, acoustic mass specs send a sonic pulse through the liquid creating a ‘mountain of liquid on the surface’.

In acoustic MS, following the firing of a 2.5 nanoLitre droplet from the liquid surface, a second pulse is sent through the ‘mountain of liquid’ which explodes the 2.5nL droplet into hundreds of femoLitre droplets. This then sends a tornado of droplets through a charged field to generate a stream of ionized particles into the mass spectrometer.


Benefits within drug discovery: speed and efficiency

Mass spectrometry has proved to be a powerful technique to determine the mass, structure and abundance of molecules, but limitations have been found in the rate at which samples can be introduced to the mass detector.

This has left the industry relying on expensive labelled technologies which increase the cost and duration of early stage drug discovery. As AMI-MS technology uses sound energy to create a fine mist of charged droplets it can deliver a twenty-fold improvement in throughput, compared to traditional mass spectrometry.

In an early trial of the AIM-MS system, AstraZeneca was able to save 95% of the cost to develop the assay. It also reduced development time from an estimated 6 months to 2 weeks, and screened 230,000 compounds (600 plates) in 10 working days.  Not only is AMI-MS both contactless and contamination free, it can now analyze up to three samples per second, or more than 100,000 samples per day.

Dr Jon Wingfield, Principal Scientist, Innovative Medicines and Early Development (IMED) Biotech Unit at AstraZeneca, says:

“We are investing in ground-breaking science to help lead the way in mass spectrometry screening. Our collaboration with Medicines Discovery Catapult will not only enable us to engage with the wider scientific community but will also allow us to unlock the potential of Acoustic Mass Spectrometry within drug discovery.”


Increased access for SMEs

In the pharmaceutical sector, small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are the motor of innovation and play a major role in the development of new medicines for patients. It’s estimated that 75% of new drugs in development are being progressed by SMEs and small biotech globally.

Following AstraZeneca’s collaboration with the Medicines Discovery Catapult, SMEs will now be able to access Acoustic Mist Ionization Mass Spectrometry to achieve increased speed, efficiency and lowered costs during drug discovery and development.

Interested in new drug developments? Read our article on Drugs & Products to Watch in 2018.

The Medicines Discovery Catapult was established by Innovate UK to bring specialist technology and expertise to SMEs to further drive the development of new approaches for the discovery and early development of new medicines.

Dr Peter Simpson, Chief Scientific Officer of the Medicines Discovery Catapults, says:

“It is important for us to enable UK SMEs to use hard-to-access sophisticated bioanalytical technologies. For the first time, using the power of sound energy, this state-of-the-art technology gives our partner SMEs the potential to better understand and more rapidly advance their promising drug candidates.”


In Conclusion

AMI-MS has the potential to drastically increase the speed at which samples can be analyzed for a fraction of the cost. Access to this state of the art biotechnology will empower SMEs to innovate fast-to-patient drug discovery. This could be particularly important in the field of rare diseases and orphan medicines, where SMEs are a major source of innovation.


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