Drug-Testing Technology Saves Millions of Pounds and Lives – Coventry University

Each year an estimated $15bn of pharmaceuticals are sold which unintentionally cause or worsen heart disease. From 2002, a team of researchers from the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences at Coventry University have been working to address this issue by using novel techniques and scientific methods to improve the early detection of adverse drug issues on heart contraction.

One result of this research has been the development of successful spin-out company, InoCardia Ltd., founded in 2013 to provide innovative services in cardiovascular safety assessment. The Inocardia team, led by Professor Helen Maddock, investigated the use of an in-vitro test using heart tissue in the lab to closely mimic the physiology of the contraction and relaxation of the heart.

This new technique improves the safety assessment of drugs that are in development within the pharmaceutical industry and looks to reduce drug-induced heart damage.

The work has been developed further to enable researchers to successfully predict both the negative and positive side effects medical drugs would have on the heart before the clinical testing stage.

These new techniques aim to improve early detection of cardiac safety issues and will help pharmacologists avoid expensive problems later on in the drug-testing process.

In 2020, the business was expanded to include InoCardia’s cardiac safety assessment portfolio and was supported by over £2.5m funding from InnovateUK, NC3R, European Development Research Fund and Horizon 2020. InoCardia now employs seven full-time staff at its Coventry headquarters and an additional three PhD students.

The most recent innovation from InoCardia, the in-silico Contractome-AI, has given pharmaceutical companies a pioneering new ability to model compounds for heart tissue contraction virtually, based on known qualities of components. Developed in collaboration with renowned computational chemistry-modelling company Cresset, this has allowed an even earlier assessment of compounds’ potential effects on heart tissue contraction.

The company have also used their human tissue assay in safety assessments to advocate for technology that reduces and replaces animal use in research. InoCardia’s innovative services have helped position the UK as a leader in new drugs development technologies to reduce animal tissue use, which according to the former Pfizer Head of Global Safety Pharmacology, marks a ‘…new era of drug discovery’.

The Work-Loop assay also ‘only requires milligram quantities of material’ and therefore, ‘can be used much earlier in the drug discovery process’. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies have reduced money they would have spent on the development of drugs doomed to fail at clinical trial; the ‘ability to detect cardiac contractility issues earlier allows money (many millions of pounds) to be spent on compounds with a higher chance of success.’

Professor Maddock has also collaborated with University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) to use her research to support improvements in the detection of cardiac injury in cancer patients, further driving health sector innovation, productivity gains and benefitting patient outcomes.

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