New NSERC investment in research at York University could help speed up drug development

A grant of more than $900,000 from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will fund a new research project led by Professor Sergey Krylov, York Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry, and Professor Ryan Hili, both based in the Faculty of Science at York University.

Ryan Hili
Sergey Krylov

The researchers hope to design new ways to automate key processes of pre-clinical, early-stage drug development, facilitating faster routes to clinical testing, making treatments for illness available sooner.

Developing small-molecule drugs from original idea to the launch of a finished product is a complex endeavour that takes an average of 10 years to reach the open market. The early stages of drug development are slow, expensive and prone to failures, and they can take up to half of the total time required for drug development. The new NSERC grant supports research that aims to transform early stages of drug development into a fast and robust operation.

Krylov and Hili are working on the development of new technologies that, if successful, will facilitate automating key processes that make up early stages of drug development. Automating these processes will provide more efficient and faster routes through the risky initial stages and enable faster entry into the later testing stages.

“I want to thank the federal government for supporting this project,” said Krylov. “NSERC’s grant will allow us to develop new technologies that reduce the time it takes to develop new drugs. Automated identification of validated hits, that we aim at, will save pharmaceutical companies time and money and lead to faster development of more affordable drugs.”

Obtaining a single approved drug requires thousands of validated hits during the testing stages. A validated hit is when chemical compounds have confirmed binding to a therapeutic target, typically a protein. The anticipated technologies will facilitate fast and reliable delivery of a large number of validated hits for downstream testing stages.

Based on five processes supporting algorithmization and robust controls, the research into the new technologies has the potential to lead to an integrated and automated identification of validated hits.

The project will be carried out by an interdisciplinary academic team, led by Krylov and Hili at York, in collaboration with two pharmaceutical companies, Alphora Research and GSK Canada, and instrumentation development company SCIEX.

The project is also expected to generate new knowledge in related areas of research and industry-demanded skills. The developed technologies will be commercialized via licensing to the supporting organizations and other companies.