A cutting-edge system to improve the drug discovery process, which could save companies and research institutes significant time and cost, as well as improve the probability of success from R&D activities, has won its creator a leading engineering entrepreneurship award.

Dr Margaret Anne Craig from Glasgow University scooped the £40,000 Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurship Award for her research into new optical instrumentation, bespoke software and microsystems technologies for evaluating new drugs validation and testing their toxicity.

The CellOPTIQ system is designed to make it easier for pharmaceutical firms to assess the efficacy of new compounds as potential medicines and reduce late-stage failure of candidate drugs as they move from the lab into later stage trials.

Stricter regulatory requirements, escalating R&D costs and a 90% rate of failure of drugs in development are threatening the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to bring new drugs to market. Average development costs for a successful compound are in excess of $1billion, forcing pharmaceutical companies to seek new technical solutions. The prize-winning system provides a solution for pharmaceutical drug discovery and offers scientists the ability to work with a range of cells in one platform. It also makes use of new stem cell technologies that reduce the experimentalists’ dependence on animal testing and in vivo drug models.

The industry is particularly focused on improving the availability of biological data on ‘new chemical entities’ at an earlier stage, allowing better decisions to be made on which compounds to select for further development. The CellOPTIQ instrument, plus the cells and preservation technologies that comprise Dr Craig’s drug discovery solution, offer ways for pharmaceutical firms to reduce R&D costs and improve success rates by eliminating compounds with poor toxicity profiles earlier in the process.

Dr Craig will be invited to the Royal Academy of Engineering's annual Academy Awards ceremony at London's Royal Opera House on 26 June. There, she will collect a £10,000 personal prize, with a further £30,000 to invest in the development of her winning idea. The award recognises efforts to extract entrepreneurial promise from academic research, specifically in the field of electro-technology.

Dr Craig said: “Current drug discovery methodologies are labour intensive, technically demanding and expensive. We believe our tools will save companies involved in drug discovery significant time and money. They will also provide decision-makers with early access to critical information on which compounds to develop.”

Sir Alan Rudge CBE FREng FRS, Chairman of the ERA Foundation, said: “I congratulate Dr Craig on her selection for this prestigious prize and believe her research will have a significant beneficial impact in the field of drug discovery and to the growth of the UK economy. The ERA Foundation is delighted to be associated with the Royal Academy of Engineering in recognising and rewarding talented entrepreneurs.”

Two projects were also declared runners-up. Dr Damian Gardiner, Dr Philip Hands and Dr Stephen Morris from the University of Cambridge were selected for their work on COSMOS liquid crystal lasers, as well as Adam Brown from the University of Strathclyde for his intelligent condition monitoring decision support software called Lumen.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. The ERA Foundation aims to contribute to the economic vitality of the UK by supporting activities that will help to bridge the gap between research and exploitation in the broad field of electrotechnology. The Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurship Award and £40,000 prize is made possible by the support of the Foundation and was established to identify entrepreneurial researchers working in UK universities, in the field of electro-technology, who are at an early stage in their career. The award is presented to an individual or team annually, who demonstrate considerable entrepreneurial promise and the potential to benefit the UK’s future prosperity. In addition to the first prize, two additional cash prizes of £2,000 will be presented to runners-up.

For more information please contact

Sarah Griffiths at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0655