THE CHEMISTRY OF MODERN LIFE
Inside an unremarkable brick building near Cambridge city centre, scientists are hard at work developing life-saving solutions. Here in the Lonza Group’s laboratories, research is taking place that is helping to transform the treatment and prevention of diseases such as cancer and conditions that affect the immune system.
“Drug development is time-consuming and costly,” says Yvette Stallwood, Head of Applied Protein Services. “What we do is look for features in biotherapeutic products – those made from living organisms to treat disease – which could affect their stability and their ability to be developed successfully for patients. It’s truly innovative work.”
A global giant
The Cambridge site is part of Lonza’s network of research facilities, which employ nearly 10,000 staff and span the world, from Canada to China. Founded in 1897, this Basel-based Swiss multinational, chemicals and biotechnology company has more than a century of experience in supplying cutting-edge services to the pharmaceutical, biotech and specialty ingredients markets. Its brands number more than 1,000 and range from stem-cell therapies and vitamin B3 compounds to drinking-water sanitisers.
Stallwood and her team support drug development for universities, small biotech firms and pharmaceutical giants. Their successes include a tool that can assess the risk of a drug treatment failing at an early stage. Biotherapeutic products are proteins that have the potential to aggregate (or clump) and therefore be less effective when they are given to the patient. Lonza’s solution, called Sentinel APART™, was developed three years ago and relaunched in a new form this year, and can predict early on the likelihood of this occurring.
“Aggregation can affect where the product goes in the body and how the product functions,” says Stallwood. “It can compromise its effectiveness. But our tool can ensure this risk is reduced during development so that the pharmaceutical company has the very best chance of being able to develop the product.”
Safe and sound
Safety is another key aspect of Stallwood’s work. Biotherapeutic treatments can cause a patient’s immune system to respond in an uncontrolled way, and this reaction can affect both the efficacy and safety of the drug treatment. To counter this, Lonza has developed a platform called Epibase®.
“We wanted to ensure that treatments are not triggering a reaction from the patient, so we devised Epibase, which is widely used by pharma companies,” says Stallwood. “It’s this type of research and development that we are doing continually. The main aim is to ensure that the lowest-risk product with the greatest overall benefit for the patient reaches the market.”
Lonza’s position as a global leader in life sciences and its pioneering work have been recognised with numerous awards. These include the 2012 Above and Beyond Supplier Award from research company Metrex, as well as the Technology Leadership of the Year Award from consulting firm Frost and Sullivan. “Working for Lonza presents a very large career opportunity for graduates and postgraduates,” says Stallwood. At Cambridge, the team includes those from a broad range of backgrounds and experience, from mathematicians to biochemists.
For Stallwood, the end focus will always be the patient and seeing what difference she and her team can make. When that means a patient recovering from a serious illness like cancer then her work is truly life-saving indeed.