Announcing the third round of Eisai and UK DRI Industry awards

Sterile Scientists Microscope Gorodenkoff Shutterstock Red

The UK DRI and Eisai are excited to announce the recipients of the Eisai / UK DRI postdoctoral research awards from the latest selection round. These awards allow postdoctoral scientists to collaborate on projects with Eisai, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical companies. The projects from previous rounds are underway and are already benefitting from the expertise of this industrial partner.

In this third round, the joint UK DRI and Eisai committee selected two projects for their potential to advance the understanding of the biology of neurodegeneration and provide opportunities to develop novel therapeutics. The successful projects were proposed by Group Leaders Prof Philip Taylor (UK DRI at Cardiff) and Dr Soyon Hong (UK DRI at UCL) with Prof Kenneth Harris at UCL. Each research award provides funding to allow a postdoctoral scientist to undertake the project for three years.

Phil Taylor Soyon Hong Eisai

Understanding microglial dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease through rare coding variants

Prof Philip Taylor, UK DRI at Cardiff

A number of gene variants are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Among them are rare coding variants that provide opportunities to understand some of the underlying mechanisms of the condition. Prof Taylor aims to investigate a particular Alzheimer’s disease-associated variant to understand how it alters microglial function. The project will identify in detail how pathways in microglia are affected and to what extent they are responsible for the heritability of the disease. This will provide new opportunities to explore the roles of microglia in human induced pluripotent stem cells with high and low polygenic risk, as part of the UK DRI IPMAR platform.

Upon receiving the award, Prof Taylor said:

“I hope that the project will develop a new direction in determining the role of microglia in Alzheimer’s disease. Our ultimate aim is to develop therapies for the condition, and I expect the interaction with Eisai will provide us with a very targeted view of this as we generate more data.”

Spatial profiling of microglia associated with synaptic degeneration in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s brains

Dr Soyon Hong (UK DRI at UCL) and Prof Kenneth Harris (UCL)

It is becoming increasingly apparent that immune cells involved in neuronal homeostasis, also have a role to play in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. However, the details are not yet clear due to the variety of cell states that can be adopted by immune cells, particularly microglia and border-associated macrophages (BAMs). Some of these states can damage neurons and the brain environment influences states that are adopted. A detailed understanding of these different cell states is required to determine how microglia and BAMs are involved in neurodegeneration.

Dr Soyon Hong and Prof Kenneth Harris are generating a spatial atlas of different functional clusters of microglia and BAMs in the nervous system during Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, using state-of-the-art optical methods to visually identify differences in gene expression. The project has the potential to highlight novel targets for future biomarker and therapeutic studies.

When asked about her motivation for applying for the award, Dr Hong said:

“Given our exciting preliminary data, we decided to apply for Eisai / UK DRI postdoctoral research awards, because it would provide a remarkable opportunity to collaborate with Eisai. We will surely benefit from active engagement and discussion of data as discoveries are being made. Successful identification of microglial cell states in the Alzheimer's disease tissues using our in-situ sequencing paradigm, coupled with a clear understanding of the cell states’ functional implications, will likely lead to new avenues to assess, and hopefully target, specific functions of microglia/BAMs in Alzheimer's disease.”

Microglia Stain Shutterstock Jose Luis Calvo

Catching up with previous awards

We are also pleased that the projects from the first round of the Eisai / UK DRI postdoctoral research awards have recruited their postdoctoral scientists and are underway:

Dr Eftychia Bellou in the lab of Prof Valentina Escott-Price (UK DRI at Cardiff)
- Using genetics to identify patients suitable for future dementia treatments

Dr John Danial in the lab of Prof Sir David Klenerman (UK DRI at Cambridge)
- Innovative assessment of proteins secreted from Parkinson’s disease neurons to identify underlying mechanisms

Dr Robert Ellingford in the lab of Dr Marc Aurel Busche (UK DRI at UCL)
- Long-term tracking of changes to neurons and blood vessels in models of Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease

Dr Bellou started her project in March 2020 from a previous postdoctoral position in the lab of Prof Escott-Price. When asked about what attracted her to the project, Dr Bellou explained:

“I believe collaborations between universities and big pharmaceutical companies are a win-win situation. Via academia-pharma partnerships, the pharma industry has access to academic expertise to design research studies, assisting them with the translation of new targets into therapeutic programmes and novel medicines. We, academics, can learn much from our pharmaceutical counterparts by sharing experiences and knowledge around technologies and project management.”

Dr Danial started his project in August 2020 after completing his first postdoctoral position at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems and the University of Tübingen. Dr Danial described his experience of the project so far:

“The lab is fantastic. I have received intellectual support like in no other place. The amount of collaboration and skill present is unparalleled. It is one of the best places to perform interdisciplinary research on a complicated topic such as dementia.”

Dr Ellingford started his project in October 2020 following a joint PhD at the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology and the Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology at King’s College London. When asked about what motivated him to join the project, Dr Ellingford said:

“My research interests are driven by improving our understanding of neurological diseases, but also utilising this understanding to improve our ability to treat them. Upscaling the discoveries made in academia into feasible clinical treatments is often a challenge that requires a vastly different skillset to that needed for research. An academic/industrial partnership allows me to draw upon these complementary skillsets.”

Collaborating with Eisai presents new opportunities to postdoctoral researchers, which has greatly benefitted their projects.

Dr Bellou said:

“My interaction with the colleagues from Eisai has been fantastic and really insightful so far. Our frequent communication has been helping us to tackle the research questions from different perspectives in order to work more effectively as a team.”

Dr Danial commented:

“Eisai has provided fantastic support throughout, including with precious samples that are hard to obtain otherwise but which are very important in understanding and treating the disease.”

Dr Ellingford added:

“We can draw on the experience and data Eisai have already gained from the years of work they have already put into developing their drug in order to greatly streamline our efforts to apply it to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

On the partnership, UK DRI Director of Innovation & Business, Dr Kay Penicud, said:

"Eisai are a valued strategic partner, and their expertise and input into the Eisai-UK DRI projects are invaluable. The UK DRI has a strong vision to ensure our research has patient impact, and working with partners like Eisai is helping us to realise that vision. I’m thrilled to see the early successes of the initial project round, and look forward to continued collaboration and new projects with Eisai."

To find out more about the partnership and previous awards, please see the UK DRI news articles:
Launch article
Round 1
Round 2

Note: This article was initiated and written by UK DRI. Eisai had no control over its content but checked for accuracy.

Article published: 4 February 2022
Banner image: Gorodenkoff/
Microglia image: Jose Luis Calvo/

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