Oxford Drug Design, the Oxford-based AI drug discovery company applying its pioneering AI platform to develop novel molecules for use in cancer treatments, has appointed Dr. Richard Cooper as its new Head of Machine Learning and Professor Xiang-Lei Yang to its Scientific Advisory Board.

The two appointments strengthen the company’s respective dual core competencies in AI powered drug discovery and the use of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (aaRS) targets, an enzyme family with a vast range of potential uses in oncology and other major diseases.

Dr. Cooper is a computational chemist with an extensive career in both industry and academia successfully applying modelling technologies toward molecular optimisation. He has been Head of Chemical Crystallography at the University of Oxford where his research has focused on method development for crystal structure modelling tools and combining chemical descriptors, machine learning models and experimental data to enable interpretation and tuning of properties in molecular materials.

He received his BA, MA and DPhil in chemistry from Oxford where he also conducted postdoctoral work; he also serves as President of the British Crystallographic Association.

Prof. Yang is the Ernest W. Hahn Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. Her laboratory pioneers the field of aaRS on their broad regulatory functions in higher organisms and the context of human
diseases, including neuromuscular diseases, diabetes and cancers.

Prof. Yang’s work integrates studies in animal models with 3D structural analysis, biophysical, biochemistry and mammalian cell biology to reveal mechanistic insights and provide therapeutic strategies. She received her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Capital Institute of Medical Science (Beijing), PhD in Biophysics and Computational Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Postdoctoral work at Scripps with Professor Paul Schimmel. She is the Co-Principal Investigator of the Scripps Laboratory for tRNA Synthetase Research and a co-founder of aTyr Pharma Inc, (LIFE).

The appointments coincide with the completion of the first phase of Oxford Drug Design’s lead oncology program, demonstrating the potential of the company’s innovative proprietary molecules to modulate the function of aaRS as a novel approach to cancer. Members of this compound class have shown potent activity against a range of cancer cell lines. Further studies are ongoing, the success of which could deliver a first-in-class, innovative therapy in oncology.

Dr Alan D. Roth, CEO of Oxford Drug Design, said: “Dr. Cooper and Prof. Yang are leaders in their respective fields and bring a wealth of expertise to our team. Richard joins us having spent his recent career pioneering the use of machine learning in tackling some of chemistry’s toughest challenges and will apply that knowledge to the continued development of our AI platform.

“Not only have Prof. Yang’s discoveries in chemical biology revolutionised the field, but she also brings years of corporate experience that will be invaluable to our growth ambitions. Celebrating their appointments at the same time as this successful proof-of-concept is a testament to the momentum built up by our hard-working team.”

Dr Richard Cooper said: “Oxford Drug Design is building something special in computational drug discovery. The application of this distinctive AI platform will have a profound impact on the future of oncology – which can one day enable us to tackle a range of cancers head-on with highly precise, effective treatment, fewer side effects and better outcomes for patients – as well as other diseases. I’m also looking forward to expanding the use of our platform in collaborative research with partner programs, which has great scientific and commercial potential.”

Prof. Xiang-Lei Yang said: “This is such an exciting time to be joining Oxford Drug Design. aaRS enzymes have the potential to have a profound impact on the treatment of diseases not just in oncology but also in many other therapeutic areas with significant unmet need. ODD are grasping the opportunity with a highly innovative approach using small molecules to be at the forefront of this new wave of drug discovery research.”