In 2019, Dr Richard Bourne, Associate Professor in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds, was appointed Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Digital Manufacturing and Discovery of Pharmaceuticals. These fellowships allow awardees to focus full-time on research by covering the costs of a replacement academic to take over their teaching and administrative duties for a year.
Dr Richard Bourne is developing new ways of using automated reactors and chemical engineering techniques that facilitate the discovery and manufacture of new medicines. He had already been engaged in post-doctoral collaboration with AstraZeneca for several years, and is using this relationship, and support from an EPSRC grant, to create new ways of generating and optimising new candidate drugs.
As a discovery chemist, Dr Bourne is looking to synthesise new drug molecules to the point where they can be successfully tested for medical activity. Reaching that point can be slow, and speeding up the process too quickly could mean that the new types of molecule aren’t properly evaluated.
Artificial intelligence and data are at the core of his research – the high-quality data generated by automated platforms may help future models to predict new medicines. His new methods aim to develop and integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning controlled synthesis. This combination can accelerate the development of new drugs and support potential new treatments for diseases such as arthritis and cancers.
By the start of 2021, Dr Bourne’s team had made good progress. He feels that recognition of the Academy’s Senior Research Fellowship has been instrumental in generating new research collaborations particularly with international industrial sponsors. He says “I hope that in the next couple of years we will provide the proof of concept publications to demonstrate the power of automation for digital manufacturing and the discovery of new pharmaceutical products. Then, we’ll be able to expand from our current systems to a major infrastructure investment with remotely accessed facilities acting as a cloud-based ‘chemical server’”.