Today we say a fond farewell to WCAIR Director and Head of the DDU, Professor Paul Wyatt. Paul is leaving today after almost 16 years at the University of Dundee to join Sitala Bio Ltd.
Paul came to Dundee in 2006 to help establish the DDU from its inception, after it was created by Professor Mike Ferguson and Professor Alan Fairlamb. Since that time, the DDU has grown from a handful of members to an established 130 strong team with substantial capabilities to develop drugs for a wide number of diseases. These include malaria, visceral leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, coronaviruses, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. To achieve this, they work with more than 50 partners around the world, including many of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies.
In 2016 Paul led the successful bid to establish a new Wellcome Centre within the School of Life Sciences. The Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR) brings together the DDU with parasitologists and the Mode of Action group to create a translational research hub for neglected tropical diseases. WCAIR’s ambition is to radically increase the rate of delivery and success of drug discovery projects by fundamentally redesigning drug discovery for these diseases. As well as investment in new research methodology WCAIR supports researchers from disease endemic countries through our training programme and has a very active and innovative public engagement programme.
Paul was recently asked to reflect on his time in Dundee. These are some highlights.
After working for a company near Cambridge, UK (United Kingdom) where he had been involved in setting up and leading their first project to deliver 3 candidate drugs, Paul started to look around for a new opportunity. He wanted to be part of the start of a new drug discovery organisation and shape how it was run. He saw an advert for the position in Dundee and that ultimately led to him traveling north to join the DDU.
The DDU is defined by two unique selling points (USP), where it is based and how it operates. The first is that it sits within an academic institution. This positioning as Paul explains provides unique benefits, “We can act as a link between the academic and industrial worlds, bringing the two worlds together. People are comfortable working with us because we are not big pharma, but we understand the drivers and needs of both pharma and academia.”
Located in a university allows the DDU to take on projects that pharma would not, “We can take risks the pharma industry won’t take around new areas of biology. And we can work on diseases people who have a profit driven imperative won’t, so we can span across those needs.”
Since 2006, the DDU has worked across two main areas: Anti-Infectives Drug Discovery and Innovative Targets Portfolio. Work has led to 4 candidate drugs in clinical development, £100M+ investment and 9 licensed assets to BioPharma companies.
The other USP is the Unit’s way of working. “We are extremely focused on understanding why drug discovery is or is not working. For example, to be able to properly understand why our leads and drugs compounds, work or do not work. That requires a lot of drug target and disease knowledge, which is often university-based. We are not just making compounds and hoping they will work; we use the in-depth knowledge in our projects to develop new models of disease and focus compound delivery to the right sites in the body.”
Reflecting on his time in Dundee, we asked Paul to name his biggest achievement. “That’s a difficult one, I think leading the creation of the DDU. Arriving in Dundee there was nothing here, really, and working out how to get everything started and shape it.” The challenge to bring in grant income to support the work caused some “really nervy times” but today there is an excellent established group who have all contributed to the DDU’s success. “We have a great team of people with great capabilities who can deliver a long history of more successes. Individual successes are great, but having something that can keep repeating it, is probably the greatest achievement.”
To conclude we asked about what he saw as the future for the DDU, “There are lots of diseases that need new drugs, new approaches, not only diseases of low- and middle-income countries. There’s a big need for more treatments for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, so there’s many opportunities out there. There will still be a lot of world class biology research going on in Dundee and elsewhere to give opportunities to develop new drugs. There will always be a need for the DDU to innovate and develop new medicines.”
“I suppose my legacy is I’ve helped to create and shape the DDU. I leave it as a highly developed and connected organisation capable of developing new drugs to treat patients.”
Everyone in WCAIR wishes Paul success for the future.
9th March 2022