The Milner Institute provides a unique interactive and multifaceted environment for therapeutic innovation where academics, pharma and biotech work side-by-side. In the Milner, we are developing our own research programme and target discovery pipeline. The methods and approaches we are fostering are disease-agnostic and we are currently applying these in oncology, respiratory disease, metabolic disorders, infectious disease, inflammatory bowel disease and CNS diseases.

Headshot of Dr Nicola McCarthy

Nicola McCarthy

Head of Research



The Target Discovery Team, led by Dr Erica Bello focuses on the optimisation of complex cellular or patient-derived disease models, and through their application, the identification of clinically relevant, high confidence targets for disease therapy. The team combine academic discovery with industry rigour, defining end-goal criteria and building go/no go decision-making points into all projects. Working in collaboration with academics and clinicians in Cambridge who have expertise in specific disease areas and who have developed biologically relevant cell-based models, the team strive to lower the barriers associated with adoption of these complex disease models into drug discovery workflows. The team focus on establishing robust models and screening outputs that will generate commercial interest and meet end-user needs (for example as a partner of choice in the NC3Rs Technologies-to-Tools programme). Many projects involve collaboration with the Computational Research team to interpret and interrogate datasets, and apply an AI and machine learning methodology into their target discovery approach.



The aim of our Computational Biology and Artificial Intelligence team, led by Dr Namshik Han, is to create an atlas of disease mechanisms through the integration and interrogation of large multi-omic datasets. The team are using bespoke machine learning methods to identify new signatures of disease and therapeutic targets, as well as network analysis to gain a deep understanding of the underlying causes of disease. The team have an established track record of collaboration with industry (e.g. GSK, AstraZeneca and Storm Therapeutics) and drug discovery partners (e.g. through a renewed partnership with LifeArc and also with Cancer Research Horizons/CRUK Cambridge Centre), through which they have developed and validated methodology with clear applications in drug discovery. The team works closely with researchers and clinicians throughout Cambridge who have unique patient datasets and disease models. It is this sharing of cross-sector expertise that ensures results are biologically interpretable and can inform go/no go decision making in drug discovery. The team’s approaches have been applied to target identification and repositioning and are applicable across many areas of healthcare including early detection and personalised medicine.


The FGSL – a joint venture between our Institute at the University of Cambridge, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and AstraZeneca – aims to combine know-how and experience to accelerate the development of biomarkers and therapeutics for diseases through functional interrogation of the genome at scale. As part of the UK’s Human Functional Genomics Initiative,  the FGSL will form collaborations to explore how genes impact on complex phenotypes in development and disease. Hosted at our Institute as a cross-functional partnership, this laboratory aligns with our mission to combine the strengths of academia and business to accelerate the development of therapies.

The FGSL leverages the unique features of arrayed screening, whereby individual genes are edited via CRISPR in plate-based format, to uncover the complexity of developmental and disease signatures using human in vitro models. To do this, the laboratory is equipped with a high-throughput screening platform that enables automated liquid handling and acquisition of high-content endpoints including spatial imaging and flow cytometry.