Many smaller drug discovery biotech start-ups or spin-outs are choosing to hold onto their promising candidate molecules until much later than they would have a few years ago. Traditionally, these promising candidate pipelines would have been bought out by larger more established pharmaceutical companies with the resources to manufacture, distribute, and market them into successful drugs.
Without the capital and established in-house R&D facilities to develop these hits into leads and further, smaller companies are now choosing to partner with service providers to gain modular access to the specific research techniques and enhanced capacities they require, without giving up IP or control of the development process.
One area where this service/out-sourcing strategy makes immense sense is accessing expensive technological infrastructures underpinning structural biology techniques such as X-ray crystallography or cryo-EM.
Mirroring the developments that occurred in the application of macromolecular crystallography to structure-based drug discovery, cryo-EM has grown exponentially over recent years and has firmly established itself as a complementary technique. Being able to study macromolecules like proteins, nucleic acid complexes, or even larger drug delivery vehicles in a solution state has opened up a number of new research possibilities, from studying targets difficult to crystalise, to domain flexibility, and epitope mapping biologics.
Access to cryo-EM however has long been a problem for those wishing to get started with this re-emerging technique. Not only has the initial cost of obtaining a microscope been cost-prohibitive, but also the sheer size and sensitivity of these machines have driven the need for dedicated facilities and engineers to support their installation and operation.
Finding and hiring experts to operate the platforms is also emerging as a significant problem facing both the industrial and academic sides of the field.
Although some pharmaceutical companies already have their own microscopes, many are unwilling (or unable) to take the risk of investment without first proving the value of the technique in their research pipelines.
The classic route to ‘dipping toes’ into cryo-EM starts with academic collaborations and access to universities, but with the requirement to publish together with sporadic access and non-contractual obligations, this route can quickly become a bottleneck for successful projects accelerating into cryo-EM campaigns.
Instead, many companies are beginning to work with service agencies or turning to access EM directly at the source, from national facilities such as Diamond Light Source. eBIC for Industry was set up at Diamond with support from Thermo Fisher Scientific to provide dedicated access to instruments and expertise in cryo-EM for pharma and biotech clients. It provides a well-needed platform for those wanting to adopt cryo-EM into their research programmes whilst enjoying the support of dedicated legal, user, data, sample management functions, and support teams.
It takes time and resources to train teams of scientists to get up to speed with both the tools and the techniques required for implementing a new technique. This is where cryo-EM as a service comes into its own.
At Diamond all service provision includes support from a dedicated team of cryo-EM experts. This invaluable support means users can get to grips with the technique quickly and get the best results from samples of actual interest at the same time.
As the team is dedicated to supporting industrial work, they are experienced with pharma’s ways of working, and therefore understand the challenges they face; it’s their job is to make sure clients maximise the time spent with the instruments, whilst optimising expenditure and mitigating risks. This means clients spend less time acquiring the data and more time developing new and effective drugs!
Our scientific consultancy model permits bespoke training to be targeted at any level no matter where you are in your journey to adopting cryo-EM so companies can rapidly accelerate their deployment of the technique.
From clients without structural biology departments looking for full service (tube to structure) offerings to companies with their own screening instruments looking for high-resolution data collection capabilities, and anywhere in between, eBIC for Industry is ready to help.
We have worked with a range of clients throughout Europe, the US, and Japan, to demonstrate the value of cryo-EM and trained many of them up to the point of independent experts, who proudly still collect with us.
At eBIC for Industry we provide a range of service options so you can choose whichever best suits your needs.
As part of our full-service offering we undertake to prepare, screen, and optimize samples for further collection on our Krios, and hopefully, finally solve atomic-resolution structures for clients.
Even if you have big ambitions for adopting cryo-EM and wish to buy your own equipment in the future, accessing cryo-EM through eBIC for Industry gives you the option to ‘try before you buy’ and it also gives you flexible access to resources as and when you need them, without costly overheads and with the support of dedicated experts in the technique.
It can easily be built into your structure-based drug discovery or bioproduct development pipeline with regular visits, so companies can invest as much in the technique as they desire and expand usage only when successful.
Once contracts are in place the process is very quick and easy, so even if you need extra resource at busy times, or want our experts to do the experiments for you, it couldn’t be easier!
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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