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Domainex celebrates 20 years in Drug Discovery

Domainex Timeline

This year Domainex celebrates its 20th anniversary: 20 years of innovation, enriching our clients’ medicines pipelines with the latest technologies and a wealth of drug discovery expertise.

Looking back, a lot has changed since we formed in 2001 as a fledgling small molecule research organisation spun out from University College London, Birkbeck College and the Institute of Cancer Research.

Turning back to the beginning of a new millennium

Domainex was founded with the purpose of developing a new technology, known as Combinatorial Domain Hunting (CDH), to identify highly expressed domain constructs of challenging proteins. Since its beginning, Domainex has seen considerable expansion, one major event was the merger with the medicinal chemistry services company NCE Discovery in 2006. Dr Rehan Aqil (Associate Principal Scientist, Medicinal Chemistry), Dr Mark Stewart (Team Leader, Medicinal Chemistry) and Dr Natalie Winfield (Director of Commercial Operations) from the NCE Discovery team remain with the company today and have each provided over 16 years of dedicated service to Domainex, along with Dr Stefanie Reich (Group Leader, Protein Science) who was involved in the original development of the CDH technology.

In 2007, Domainex moved to a new Cambridge site with increased capacity for integrated medicines research, progressing to an even larger Cambridge site in 2011 as its biochemistry and cell biology services expanded. In 2016, further growth meant that another move was required and we moved to our current Medicines Research Centre in Chesterford Research Park, with double the lab capacity and an on-site scale up facility to carry out chemical reactions up to a 10 L scale.

Adaptation is the key to survival

Over the past 20 years, Domainex has adapted to advances in the pharmaceutical industry to meet client needs. With the increased popularity of Computer-Assisted Drug Design (CADD) and Structure-Based Drug Design (SBDD), we have adopted state-of-the-art software and built strong teams of experts (including X-ray crystallographers) to provide excellent services in both these areas.

We’ve also invested in a range of high-end biophysical equipment including instruments from NanoTemper; the Dianthus NT.23PicoDuo, the Monolith NT.Automated and the Prometheus NT.Plex, and from Creoptix; the WAVEdelta platform. This suite of instrumentation enables Domainex to provide a range of biophysical services including assay development and screening (including fragments) using the techniques of Grating Coupled Interferometry (GCI), MicroScale Thermophoresis (MST), Differential Scanning Fluorimetry (DSF) and nanoDSF, and Domainex is widely regarded as one of the leading experts in this field. 

We are also proud to have developed Polymer Lipid Particle (PoLiPa) technology which has revolutionised the isolation of membrane proteins and allows stable and highly purified protein to be prepared without the use of detergents, thereby enabling drug discovery programmes.

With increased services and technology, Domainex has recruited additional scientists, currently supporting a team of over 70, and has introduced new scientific levels to allow within-company career progression. We work with an increasing number of international clients and are in a strong position to remain at the forefront of drug discovery as the pharmaceutical industry continues to progress.

Many significant milestones have been reached in the past 20 years, with large laboratory expansions and exciting collaborations. For example, in 2020, Domainex secured an out-licencing agreement with Invivoscribe, Inc., a global leader in precision diagnostics, who will develop and commercialise certain molecules generated by Domainex as oral immunotherapy agents to treat conditions including acute myeloid leukaemia.

Domainex has added significant value to its clients’ programmes. For example, our work with Imperial College resulted in the identification of pre-clinical candidates which are novel, potent, highly selective, small-molecule inhibitors of MAP4K4, which have the potential to become treatments for heart attack. Domainex has also worked with Queen’s University Belfast on a programme which successfully identified novel first-in-class small molecule inhibitors of the anti-apoptotic protein FLIP, with multiple therapeutic opportunities. Queen’s University Belfast is now seeking a commercial partner for further development of these novel inhibitors. Domainex’s work with St George’s, University of London and the University of Manchester led to the discovery of a potent, selective, and reversible pre-clinical candidate inhibitor of the House Dust Mite Peptidase Allergen, Der p 1, which could potentially offer an innovative approach to the treatment of allergic asthma.

The success of Domainex in the field of drug discovery has not gone without recognition, with the company appearing in the 2018 Financial Times top 1000 list of Europe’s fastest growing companies, and earning the title of ‘Drug Discovery CRO of the Year – Europe’ at the 2020 GHP Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Awards and ‘Best CRO’ at the OBN Awards 2020. We are once again nominated for the GHP Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Awards – stay tuned to find out how we get on.

Taking stock after two decades

From a small spin-out business in 2001, Domainex has grown considerably in the past 20 years and continues to expand. In the past year, the company grew by ~45%, welcoming over 30 new colleagues to our team, and saw exciting changes in leadership, including the appointment of Dr Tom Mander as CEO. We also launched a new brand and website in 2020 to support this continued growth.

The pandemic, with its devastating impact around the world, has highlighted the importance of inter-disciplinary and international collaboration in order to solve global problems. Looking back from where we started, as a UK-based company, Domainex has seen significant international expansion. Our current team of scientists represent over 10 nationalities, and we work with suppliers from around the globe that provide us with the cutting-edge technologies that enable our world-leading range and quality of services. Our international collaborations, along with the diversity and experience of our team promote a culture of thinking outside the box to find complex solutions.

So, what about the future?

Like any successful organisation, the goal is to keep growing! At Domainex, we plan to do this by supporting our innovative team of scientists to continue finding solutions to our clients’ most challenging drug discovery projects.

We’re at a momentous point in the life sciences industry, with the pandemic forcing paradigm shifts in the way we work but also raising the awareness of the essential role that scientific research plays in everyday life. It will be exciting to see what the next 1, 5 and 10 years hold and where we will be as a company, as well as where our current research projects will be and what new innovative services we will be offering.

Thank you to all of our team, suppliers, clients, and collaborators - we look forward to continuing working with you.

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