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Rewriting The Rules Of Drug Discovery

The spin-out Summit is the latest brainchild of serial entrepreneur Professor Steve Davies, which spans database curation to novel drug design.
Spurred by the successes of his first commercial venture, which encompassed the spectrum of chemistry from experimental R&D through to larger-scale industrial processes, Davies was eager to create a similar company able to straddle the boundary between chemistry and biology. His work at the interface of the two subjects was the natural choice, so he knew that the venture should focus on powerful new methods of identifying biological pathways to aid drug discovery.

VASTox, or Value Added Screening Technologies Oxford, was set up to achieve just that. Split in to two parts, one providing services to the pharmaceutical industry, the other working on the company's own research, its goal was to turn the conventional approaches to drug discovery on their head. Usually, pharmaceutical companies use a ‘gene-to-screen’ approach, where genomic technologies are used to identify biological receptors or enzymes that are used as new targets for drugs to act upon. Once those targets are identified, huge numbers of chemical compounds are screened to identify which might stimulate or block the disease target. But this process is inherently inefficient - and expensive.

VASTox’s technology has flipped the entire concept on its head. Instead, VASTox start with huge digital libraries of existing chemical data that can be probed to simultaneously identify possible receptors and proteins that will react to drugs, as well as suitable molecules that can target them. It is a more cost-effective way to find new drug models and targets - and one that has received huge industrial interest.

Since its inception, VASTox has grown rapidly. In fact, it has acquired a number of companies along the way, and is now recognised as one of the largest companies specialising in the research, synthesis and analysis of carbohydrates for use in pharmaceuticals - a change of focus that has seen the company change its name to Summit. Now, their research is centred on the use of Second generation leads from iminosugars, or Seglins, as a means to assess biological drug targets that cannot be exploited using normal drug discovery techniques.