Our Research

The Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute (ODDI) couples the deep disease knowledge and biology expertise of the academic community with high quality, innovative drug discovery technologies. 

The Oxford Drug Discovery Institute unites collaborative efforts for target identification with sophisticated target development capabilities. Led by the CSO, Dr John Davis, the ODDI focuses on novel targets in the dementia therapeutic area, bringing together researchers from Biology, Chemistry, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience.

The Oxford Drug Discovery Institute is part of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance; a newly formed, world-class network of three drug discovery institutes. The initiative is based on juxtaposing high quality drug discovery expertise alongside a deep scientific and academic understanding of patients, disease mechanisms, and model systems. The intent is to translate cutting edge academic science into drug discovery, and to prosecute projects from target to lead status, and beyond. The ODDI works alongside institutes at the University of Cambridge and University College London. The Alliance will accelerate the discovery of novel, effective therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

Alzheimer’s Research UK unites more than 1000 dementia researchers from across the UK to support and streamline dementia research. The charity is dedicated to funding the best minds and forging the most effective partnerships to nurture discovery and ideas, as well as translating findings from this pioneering research into benefits for people with dementia. For more information, visit ARUK’s website

Why is drug discovery for dementia so important?

There have been no new treatments licensed for Alzheimer’s since 2002 and many people with other causes of dementia have no specific treatments available to them. Alzheimer’s Research UK is determined to change this. While there are still unanswered questions about the biology of the diseases that cause dementia, we have a stronger knowledge base than ever before. It is vital that we capitalise on these innovative ideas and discoveries and translate them quickly into potential new treatments for people with dementia.

The Drug Discovery Alliance will ensure that breakthroughs by scientists go straight into the hands of drug discovery experts. Research and development into new drugs has historically been supported by the pharmaceutical industry but we believe that academic research offers innovation, creativity, fresh ideas and flexibility that has the power to re-ignite the search for new dementia treatments. Our Drug Discovery Institutes will ensure that researchers can explore promising new areas of biology and the best ideas are fed straight into the drug discovery pipeline.

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Why Oxford?

The Oxford Drug Discovery Institute will consider all target rationales, however, we wish to capitalise on Oxford’s technical and neuroscience strengths. We are fortunate to be located on a campus with particularly strong platforms in structural biology (Structural Genomics Consortium), proteomics, high content screening, chemical biology (each in the Target Discovery Institute), patient derived stem cells (StemBANCC) and translational neuroscience (Dementias Platform UK). The ambition is to bring these capabilities, together with the deep disease expertise in academic groups, to bear on the discovery of new therapeutic approaches for dementia.

Targets not incorporated into the portfolio of the Oxford Drug Discovery Institute could be considered by the other two institutes and there is a strong culture of collaboration and support across the Alliance.

Target Discovery Institute

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The Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute is housed within The Target Discovery Institute at the University of Oxford. The Target Discovery Institute (TDI) is a major collaborative research initiative led by the Nuffield Professor of Medicine, Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe, FRS. Strategic investment through the Department and collaborative use of existing research resources from the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, the Department of Oncology, specifically the Radiation and Oncology Unit, the Oxford Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Structural Genomics Consortium enabled the Target Discovery Institute High Throughput Screening Facility (TDI HTS) to operate for two years before the institute was fully established in the new NDM Research Building. The TDI now encompasses several groups including Chemical Biology, Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry and Medicinal Chemistry, as well as the new ARUK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute.

The Institute investigates drug target discovery across various diseases drawing on the expertise of the research staff on the Campus, Medical Science Division and wider University capitalizing on existing strengths in genetics and genomic medicine, molecular and cell biology, structural biology, chemistry, pharmacology and medicine. There has been very strong support for this initiative from the University's centre and Division.

A drug target is a molecule or molecular interaction at a critical point in a disease-causing pathway that is predicted to being amenable to therapeutic manipulation. The centre aims to link recent advances in genetics, genomics and cell and chemical biology for improved drug target discovery. A more specific focus for refining and validating such targets will provide a better link between traditional "open ended" academic processes to biomedical research and the need of the pharmaceutical industry for accurately defined targets for drug development.

Compound libraries

We have access to extensive compound libraries, both in-house within The Target Discovery Institute and through partnerships with the European Lead Factory and NuEvolution. In addition, our collaboration with the Structural Genomics Consortium ensures access to epigenetic-focused compounds and fragment libraries.

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Screening Facility

Alongside our call for novel targets implicated in Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia, the University of Oxford houses a state-of-the-art screening facility, which forms part of the £8 million UK-National Phenotypic Screening Centre. Phenotypic screening is a powerful method for drug discovery because it offers the opportunity to go beyond a focus on single drug targets and broaden the search to pathways involved in disease progression. Together with its counterpart at the University of Dundee, the screening facility represents the most advanced in the UK. The system integrates a GE InCell 6000 and Perkin Elmer Envision imagers, with a compound management system consisting of Labcyte Echo 555 with an online storage capacity of 462 compound and cell plates.

For more information on our screening equipment, please click here

Target development facilities

The Oxford Drug Discovery Institute is integrated within The Target Discovery Institute and as such our scientists have access to a broad range of core expertise, including advanced bioimaging, flow cytometry, mass spectrometry and chemical biology.

Existing expertise in the biology and chemical biology of epigenetic targets (Oleg Fedorov, Kilian Huber, Brennan Group / SGC) and the ubiquitin-proteasome system (Kessler group), in combination with already established chemical proteomics technology, will help to accelerate target development in dementia.

Medicinal chemistry

The Oxford Drug Discovery Institute’s medicinal chemists will have access to a bespoke chemistry suite in order to create chemical probes to interrogate target function and produce lead compounds. These facilities include Biotage MPLC purification systems, 400 MHz NMR and extensive x-ray crystallography facilities at the Structural Genomics Consortium.

These facilities are equipped for routine organic synthesis and parallel chemistry, including with automated purification and analysis systems and a 400MHz NMR. Access to extensive X-ray crystallography facilities at the Structural Genomics Consortium and Diamond Light Source allow use of structural data in compound design.

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