In the world of drug discovery and scientific innovation, every success story is a testament to the individuals whose passion, expertise, and dedication drive research forward. To provide you with an inside look into the minds shaping our journey here at Excellerate, we’re excited to kick off our “Meet the Team” series, offering a glimpse into the professional journeys, unique perspectives, and the passions that fuel their contributions to the world of drug discovery.
In our second instalment we introduce Dr Leigh Stoddart. Leigh joined the team in 2021 and is one of the Principal Scientists at Excellerate and a highly experienced receptor pharmacologist with a particular interest in kinetics of ligand binding to GPCRs.
“Share a brief overview of your professional background and experience in the research/drug discovery industry:”
“As part of my undergraduate Biochemistry degree, I spent a year at Unilever’s research labs where I was involved in projects looking for ways to reduce oral malodour. Although this wasn’t the best smelling project, I loved being in the lab and setting up new assays. Straight after my undergraduate degree, I undertook my PhD at the University of Glasgow in Prof Graeme Milligan’s lab where I was studying the molecular pharmacology of fatty acid G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The receptors I was working on had only recently been described as fatty acid receptors, so again I found myself working with some interesting smelling compounds (the whole building didn’t appreciate the days I was working with isovaleric acid) but loving undercovering new aspects of receptor pharmacology.
After my PhD, I moved to the University of Nottingham to join Prof Steve Hill and Dr Steve Briddon’s group to work on the characterisation and use of fluorescent ligands to study adenosine receptor pharmacology. This project started me off on my long-standing interest in the use of fluorescent ligands in both academic and industry research. During my time at the University of Nottingham, I worked on a number of different project, including the exciting Kinetics for Drug Discovery (K4DD) consortium in which I worked with teams of researchers from academic and pharmaceutical companies across Europe.“
“What initially attracted you to join Excellerate?”
“Excellerate’s strong background in molecular pharmacology made applying for a position at the company very attractive. Continuing to use my background in fluorescent ligands and kinetics, all of which Excellerate have expertise in, was key to me considering a move from academic research to drug discovery research.“
“Describe your role at Excellerate in a few sentences?”
“As one of the Principal Scientists at Excellerate, my main role is to use my experience in receptor pharmacology to deliver the highest quality data for our clients. To achieve this, I work with an excellent team of scientists to design the experiments and assays they perform in our labs. Following the data capture, I work with my team to analyse the data using the most appropriate pharmacological models. A large part of my role is to communicate the results to the clients and work with them to move their projects forwards as quickly as possible.”
“What’s your most memorable moment or experience while working at Excellerate?”
“Some of my most memorable experiences at Excellerate have been in collaboration with my team to help solve issues with unexpected data. In some cases, this has been using receptor theory to design an experiment to test and prove a hypothesis to understand data for a client and in other cases, this has been identifying small differences in experiments to reduce variability.”
“What excites you the most about working at Excellerate/within drug discovery research?”
“It may sound like a cliché, but using my skills and knowledge to advance drug discovery research is a real motivator to my work.”
“What do you think sets Excellerate apart from others in the industry?”
“Myself and our CSO, Nick Holliday, are both passionate about our junior scientists understanding the pharmacological data they generate and pharmacological theory. Having this understanding helps us to provide what I believe to be as a world class pharmacological data to our clients.”
“Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work? Tell us about them!”
“I have two young children, so they take up a lot of my outside of work time! I have recently learnt how to crochet and enjoying making cute crochet plants and toys. I also play badminton when I can at a local club.”
“What’s your favourite science-related book, movie, or podcast? Why do you recommend it?”
“My favourite science-related book is ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot. Immortalised cell lines form the cornerstone of our in vitro pharmacology work, and this book explores the development of the first cell line, HeLa, and the ethics around the use of human tissue for profit. Both aspects of the book were eye-opening and thought-provoking – I recommend this book to anyone who has ever done any tissue culture.
“If you could make one bold prediction about the future of scientific research, what would it be?”
“We are only beginning to see the impact of gene editing techniques such as CRISPR on drug discovery. With the development of new and more efficient techniques to knock-in and -out specific genes, this will transform target validation and open up a range of new targets for drug development.“
“What advice would you give to aspiring young scientists looking to enter the drug discovery research field?”
“My advice to aspiring young scientists is to familiarize themselves with the drug discovery pipeline, understanding all the criteria that a candidate drugs needs to fill helps contextualise the part their speciality fills in the pipeline. Experience in a drug discovery lab, however short, is also very important, so my advice would be to take any opportunity to spend time in drug discovery labs whether during an industrial placement during an undergraduate degree or a short placement during a PhD.“
To learn more about how the team at Excellerate Bioscience can support your drug discovery program, please get in touch here.