ELF project member spotlight: Sabine Mulders, PPSC

22 July 2020

One of the objectives of the European Lead Factory (ELF) is to provide guidance to the drug discovery community on successful strategies in lead discovery techniques. Helping to achieve this objective is the Pivot Park Screening Centre (PPSC), the ELF partner responsible for assay development and high-throughput screening. To find out more about what’s involved in the assay development process and the interactions with researchers, we spoke to Sabine Mulders, Chief Project Officer at PPSC.

Sabine has a background in Molecular Biology with 13 years of experience in early drug discovery research. She has an extensive CV in the pharma sector having led biotechnology and pharmacology research groups as well as information management teams in healthcare. In addition to this, Sabine was the CEO of a start-up company working on cost-benefit assessments for MedTech. Sabine joined PPSC in April this year and is a welcome addition to the ELF team.

What is your role within the European Lead Factory?

I am the leader of the Assay Development Work Package from the public side, helping to get assays ready for high-throughput screening. We are the first point of contact for Programme Owners (external researchers) who have had their proposals successfully accepted in the ELF review and selection process. At PPSC, we check the feasibility of the assay transferred to us by the Programme Owner and prepare it for screening against the ELF compound library. The goal is to discover novel compounds, suitable for optimisation towards drug candidates.

What are your main responsibilities?

Once a screening proposal has been accepted, we contact the Programme Owner to discuss what is needed to transfer their assay to us and we then put together a team of specialists from PPSC and the other partners involved in the project. For each assay, PPSC appoints a project lead, an assay developer and a screening operator – they are all involved in the project from the start, assessing what needs to be done and who is responsible for what.

The team has contact with the other ELF partners involved and work commences with a kick-off meeting between all parties to lay the groundwork for the project, later captured in the Programme Plan. PPSC runs many assay development and screening projects simultaneously, including multiple ELF projects, and it is my responsibility to keep an overview of each one. Within PPSC, I make sure that all the necessary resources are available, that everything runs smoothly, and that any problems that arise are appropriately managed.

What interests you most about the European Lead Factory?

What I like most is that it’s a very broad collaboration. The fact that we work on so many different disease areas with all kinds of different targets keeps my work interesting. ELF gives academic groups and small and medium-sized enterprises the chance to accelerate their drug discovery programmes – an opportunity they might otherwise not have. When I started, I was immediately impressed by how well everything works. The European Lead Factory really is a well-run drug-discovery machine.

How do you and your team collaborate with the Programme Owners and what support do you offer them?

It depends on the assay, but our collaboration with Programme Owners always involves a lot of scientific discussion with regular conference calls to evaluate the progress of a project and what problems need to be dealt with. We try to offer advice as best we can, but ultimately we aim to establish partnerships where we work together to optimise the assay, ensuring the Programme Owner achieves the result they are looking for.

What advice would you give to potential applicants planning to submit a screening proposal to the European Lead Factory?

First and foremost, it’s important that applicants know that ELF is on the look-out for innovative proposals, so they really need to consider what their unique selling point is. Another tip would be for applicants to get in touch with the ELF Programme Office if they have questions. ELF can help researchers shape ideas for a good proposal and explain how the process works. Technical experts from within the consortium can help applicants understand all the technical criteria for assays to qualify for screening. More quality proposals – that is our collective goal and we’re eager to help out where we can to make this happen.