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LifeArc scientist wins prestigious Industrial Fellowship

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LifeArc’s Elliott Smyth is one of 13 talented young UK innovators to receive an industry fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

The award will enable Elliott to complete his PhD, providing vital funding and support for his project to discover future drugs for the treatment of human coronaviruses.

The fellowship programme brings together academia and industry to create commercially viable research and solutions to tackle global challenges.

Hunting for new drugs to treat coronaviruses

Elliott’s project, which is a collaboration between LifeArc and the University of Leeds, is investigating a new target in human coronaviruses that could be exploited to prevent further outbreaks of viral diseases such as COVID-19.

Despite a sharp rise in human coronaviruses over the last 20 years, there are currently no known anti-viral drugs that specifically target them, although drugs such as Molnupiravir have been successfully re-purposed. New anti-viral drugs with broad applications will become essential in a world increasingly dominated by viruses that evolve from human activity. By developing such a drug, future pandemics could be avoided, and infection and mortality rates can be reduced until a vaccine is developed.

Elliott wants to target a coronavirus-specific protein that is important in maintaining viral replication. If this pathway can be disrupted by a small molecule drug, it’s possible we could stop patients’ health getting worse. These drugs could also help other anti-viral agents work better.

Elliott, who has worked for LifeArc for two years, will be using new drug discovery techniques at the cutting edge of LifeArc’s scientific capabilities, such as fragment-based drug discovery and visualising proteins in virtual reality.

Developing the next generation of scientists

During the fellowship, students are provided with support from academic and industrial supervisors – who, for Elliott’s project, are based at LifeArc and the University of Leeds.

LifeArc Senior Scientist Martin Ambler, who is co-supervising Elliott’s project said: “I’m delighted that Elliott has been awarded this prestigious Industrial Fellowship. The programme provides a crucial link between academic research and organisations focused on translating discoveries to develop solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges – in this case we’ll be searching for new drugs to fight future coronaviruses. This exciting opportunity will enable him to explore new ways of thinking about traditional problems, and forge exciting career opportunities.”

“I am thrilled to receive this fellowship from the Royal Commission. Their generous funding will allow me to build my external network, attend key conferences and develop my independent research skills. I’m excited to work on such a high-profile project and hope the work I carry out can drive patient benefit,” said Elliot.

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