A taste of what’s to come: inspirational keynote closing speech at OxIOSCR conference

APs and IDP team
23rd Sept 2015

The second annual OxIOSCR conference was held at the University of Oxford’s Chemistry Research Laboratory today marking a significant point in the Innovative Doctoral Programme. As students begin their third year of research, the event celebrated another excellent year of achievements in research and training and, for the year ahead, highlighted exciting training opportunities to support career development, including entrepreneurship training. On the theme of the latter, closing keynote speaker, Dr Jason King, CEO of Oxford Biotrans Ltd offered an insight into the spinout process with a stimulating talk “Biocatalytic route to flavours and fragrances” about the science behind the business and the growth of the company.
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The conference was opened by Prof David Hodgson and followed with a summary, by Project Coordinator Prof Jeremy Robertson, of the research and training events that had occurred during the year, including the ‘Computation and chemo-informatics’ workshop and a comprehensive Medicinal Chemistry tutorial programme led by the Department’s Graham Wynne and Bob Westwood. A specially adapted programme for OxIOSCR, the tutorials provided students with an overview of the drug discovery process from target identification to candidate nomination and clinical trials. Another important aspect of the training programme enabled students to gain valuable industrial experience and enhance their projects, by attending 1-2 month industrial placements in collaboration with Associated Partners (APs); Prof Robertson explained that students were able to benefit from expertise in specific synthetic techniques including biocatalysis, electrochemistry and flow chemistry. The first session closed with research-based presentations delivered by Aubert Ribaucourt and Patricia Fernández Rodríguez talking specifically about the latest exciting developments in their own projects.
Over the last year, significant work has been done towards the biological screening of the students’ compounds at the Target Discovery Institute in collaboration with Dr Daniel Ebner and his team. Session 2 of the conference was devoted to this work and was kicked off with a presentation by Laia Josa Culleré, explaining the protocol and describing the optimisation studies with the cancer cell lines; Laia, the OxIOSCR student leading the work, showed some interesting initial cell viability results and described the future work in the area. She handed over to Sheng Yu, a post-doctoral student in Francesca Buffa’s Computational Biology and Integrative Genomics group at the Dept of Oncology, who has been working with the initial results in a data analysis project. Dr Yu explained that the group is developing a tool, specifically designed for high throughput screens, to enable quality control of the data and full analysis of the results arising from the screens. In parallel to the data analysis work, Josep Prous and his team at the Prous Institute for Biomedical Research (Barcelona) have performed computational algorithmic predictions on the compound structures using their proprietary SYMMETRY platform. Prof Robertson gave an overview of this work and explained that OxIOSCR aims to compare the mechanistic predictions derived from SYMMETRY with the experimental screening data.
The next session focused on public engagement activities with a brief update on website development and social media. Christian Kuper delivered an entertaining presentation on how he and fellow students designed dissemination tools (including poster, leaflets, fridge magnets and lanyards) for display at the Open Doors “Cancer Research – from bench to bedside” event and led tours of the chemistry labs to members of the public. He was recently invited back to his high school in Handrup, Germany to inspire students about chemistry, his research and project and life as a DPhil student.
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An interactive poster session was held during lunch where students were able to communicate details of their research to the OxIOSCR network. This year there were prizes for the winner and runner-up, judged by Associated Partners and students, and announced at the conference dinner: first prize went to Laia Josa Culleré and the runner-up prize to Aubert Ribaucourt.

Following a meeting of the Supervisory Board, Dr Jason King gave an enlightening talk about the history and science of Oxford Biotrans Ltd and how the company spun out from the University of Oxford. For many in the audience, it was a first taste of how research start-ups are formed, and introduced them to how spin-out companies are structured during pre- and post-investment rounds. This was a perfect introduction for the OxIOSCR students who will begin the ‘Building a business’ course at the Saïd Business School next week as part of their training programme. After an informative and busy programme, the conference closed with a drinks reception and network dinner – a perfect end to celebrate the year gone by.
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