Engineering Medicines Lab at Imperial officially launches


lab shot

EML researchers aim to develop a flexible manufacturing system for pharmaceuticals

Harnessing the healing mechanisms in our body to deliver new targeted therapies will be one of the main focuses of a new collaboration.

Imperial and the global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are establishing the Engineered Medicines Laboratory (EML). The EML is taking a new approach to the development of medicines, where researchers from a range of scientific fields including life sciences, physical sciences, engineering and medicine will work side-by-side on projects. This is a unique approach for pharmaceutical research in the UK.

In the twenty-first Century, some of the greatest advances in healthcare will be at the intersection between medicine and engineering and that is why the establishment of the EML is so exciting and timely.

– Professor James Stirling

Provost, Imperial College London

Currently, most manufacturing processes are built when a drug has been fully tested and developed, meaning that any alterations to process can be time consuming and costly.

The researchers at the EML aim to develop a flexible manufacturing system that can produce multiple drug designs concurrently. The advantage of this is that manufacturing can be more closely aligned with the research stage, which could make drug development more cost effective, leading to therapies being cheaper and more widely available for patients. 

Professor James Stirling, Provost of Imperial College London, said: “In the twenty-first Century, some of the greatest advances in healthcare will be at the intersection between medicine and engineering and that is why the establishment of the EML is so exciting and timely. Already work has begun on two ground breaking projects that aim to discover new drug therapies for cancer and inflammation. The other side to this project is developing new manufacturing techniques. This could, for example, see mini-manufacturing plants producing new prototype therapies for testing, which could significantly speed up the product development process and make drugs cheaper and more readily available. The societal benefit could be particularly important for those in developing countries who historically have not always had the best access to treatments.”

Patrick Vallance, President of R&D at GSK, added: “At GSK, we believe we have a huge amount to learn from scientists outside our own walls whose areas of expertise differ from our own, and we’re always looking for new ways of working with experts across a broad range of fields. The EML is a great example of this open-minded, collaborative approach to research.

“This is a unique and bold industry-academia partnership, combining for the first time the diverse skills of engineers, medics and life scientists on research projects that could greatly strengthen our future ability to develop innovative and cost-effective treatments for patients around the world.

“I’m confident that the diverse backgrounds of the GSK and Imperial teams involved in this initiative will lead to some game-changing advances in our R&D and manufacturing techniques.”

The EML will draw on the expertise of researchers from Imperial’s Faculties of Engineering and Medicine and GSK’s Advanced Manufacturing Team. The collaboration will commence with a three-year start-up phase that will see researchers initially focussing on two major projects. One aims to exploit the healing properties of engineered extra-cellular vesicles from cells, and the other aims to engineer molecules that contain ADP-ribose, a substance that attaches to proteins inside cells, acting as a signal to initiate biological activity, such as DNA damage repair. The team are aiming to create synthetic versions of these molecules, which may provide a new means to manipulate cell biology to deliver treatments.

Cell power

The researchers at the EML are looking to exploit the properties of extra-cellular vesicles (EV) that are derived from cells, which are important for transmitting information to help with growing damaged tissue and to aid in the control of diseases.

The aim is to utilise these EVs and engineer them so that they can also carry drug molecules. The project will also develop strategies for triggering the EVs to release the therapeutics.

The benefit of this approach, say the researchers, is that the drug could be released on demand and in a targeted way, which ultimately would lead to more effective treatments.

Better therapies

Scientists at the EML are also investigating molecules in cells that contain ADP-ribose. The full details of their role are still unclear, but previous research has shown they play an important part in cancer and inflammation, acting both to repair damaged DNA and to promote expression of specific genes.  As cancer cells manipulate these processes to proliferate uncontrollably, these molecules may provide an important mechanism for inhibiting their growth.

The current challenge for researchers is to understand how precise structures of ADP-ribose polymers and ADP-ribose-protein combinations have effects within cells.  They aim to do this by making synthetic versions, which has been proved difficult to do in the past. This would enable the researchers to observe and characterise their function in more detail.

Ultimately, the team believe their work could lead to therapies where synthetic versions of ADP-ribosylation are injected into targeted areas of the body to help with a range of treatments such as cancer therapies, where they could be used to recruit proteins important for repairing DNA.


Colin Smith

Colin Smith
Communications and Public Affairs

Click to expand or contract

Contact details

Show all stories by this author


See more tags


Comments are loading...

Leave a comment

Your comment may be published, displaying your name as you provide it, unless you request otherwise. Your contact details will never be published.