DSTT Collaboration

A vital asset of the MRC-PPU is the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) which was established in 1998. This division operates as a unique collaboration between scientists in the MRC-PPU (all PIs including Ronald Hay FRS Honorary PI of MRC-PPU), signalling researchers at the University of Dundee’s College of Life Sciences (Doreen Cantrell FRS, Alessio Ciulli, Vicky Cowling, Paul Crocker, Grahame Hardie FRS, Simon Arthur, Angus Lamond and Carol MacKintosh) and three of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies (Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck Serono).

imageThe DSTT is widely regarded as a model for how academia should interact with industry, for which it was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2006. The DSTT collaboration has also been reviewed by others (Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 10, 561-562 August 2011) and also highlighted in Research Councils UK study on the economic impact of Research Councils (Part II: Case studies, p210-222, September 2007).

This collaboration agreement has been renewed for the period 2016-2020 and currently focuses on understanding the roles that signalling pathways play in regulating key areas of cell function and how derailment of these pathways causes disease, with emphasis on Parkinson’s, cancer, and immune disorders. Its main aim is to help accelerate the development of future drugs that target specific phosphorylation and ubiquitylation systems for the improved treatment of disease. A key remit of our research is to help define and validate new drug targets with the aim of obtaining sufficiently convincing results to persuade pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs against these targets. Our Unit also helps generate reagents that will help the DSTT companies set up screens to identify and characterise inhibitors. Participating companies have access to our unpublished results, technology, expertise and reagents, as well as first rights to license our intellectual property.

The DSTT operates as a simple bridging mechanism to enable our PIs working on ubiquitylation and phosphorylation to effectively interact with six major pharmaceutical companies to help accelerate the early stages of drug discovery. The DSTT model enables industrial researchers working in any of the worldwide outlets of six pharmaceutical companies to effectively work with the ~200 Dundee-based researchers that participate in the collaboration to understand the fundamentals of the molecular causes of disease that result from disruptions in protein phosphorylation and ubiquitylation networks.

Benefits from DSTT collaboration
The MRC-PPU benefits in many ways as a result of the DSTT research collaboration.

1.   It provides an obvious translational outlet to enable our PIs to exploit their research findings. For example, any PI within the MRC-PPU can rapidly let all six pharmaceutical companies know about any new potential exciting research finding that they have made or any drug target that they have identified or validated. This can lead to major collaborations and stimulate one or more of the pharmaceutical companies to initiate a new drug discovery programme.

2.   The research support received from this collaboration is invested in the PPU PIs research programmes and provides additional support to several of our Unit’s Scientific service teams including our protein production teams, antibody generation team and cloning team.

3.   We obtain key reagents including novel inhibitors, genetically modified cell or mice models from our DSTT pharmaceutical company collaborators.

4.   The pharmaceutical companies we collaborate with provide us with important knowledge on the most critical research issues of the day for their drug development programmes. This feedback and industry perspective is extremely useful and helps maximise our overall competitiveness. It ensures that the drug discovery research programmes of the PPU PIs are focussed on addressing the most important questions for better understanding and treating disease.

5.   The DSTT collaboration greatly benefits our students and postdocs by providing experience in working with industry via their direct involvement in collaborative experiments with pharmaceutical companies. This provides them with a unique insight into the high quality cutting edge research that is taking place within pharmaceutical companies and gives them an awareness of potential careers in industry. This is particularly important given that one of our main priorities is to train tomorrow’s industrial researchers and ensure that the future workforce has the high quality scientific and research support skills that the UK economy will be dependent on.