Target Discovery and Functional Validation

The target discovery and functional validation programme led by Dr Rebecca Harris, focuses on 1) the characterisation and optimisation of complex cellular or patient-derived disease models, and 2) their application to identify 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. The team works in collaboration with academics and clinicians in Cambridge who have expertise in specific disease areas and have developed biologically relevant cell-based models. By considering how these models could be applied to drug discovery workflows they further refine the models and generate screening outputs to deliver a pipeline of novel targets. Many projects involve an exchange with the Computational Research team to interpret and interrogate datasets and they integrate AI and machine learning methodology into their target discovery approach.


Dr Rebecca Harris

From 2017-2022 the Milner Therapeutics Institute delivered the Onco-Innovation programme, one of 12 original foundation programmes within the CRUK Cambridge Centre. The programme was managed by Dr Rebecca Harris, and led by our director Tony Kouzarides, alongside Susan Galbraith (AstraZeneca). A key objective was to establish the Milner as a physical institute, which was accomplished when the JCBC opened in 2019. From 2022, the MTI has been elevated to an affiliated institute within the CRUK CC structure, and we look forward to continuing our close interactions across the whole Centre, working to support entrepreneurship, enable pre-clinical industry-academic collaboration and to integrate clinical engagement early in oncology target discovery research within the MTI.

Discover our Research:

Team Members

Dr Rebecca Harris 
Head of Target Discovery

April Foster
Postdoctoral Research Associate

Tannia Gracia
Technical Research Lead

Research Collaborations

Matthias Zilbauer 
Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

Frank McCaughan
CRUK Cambridge Centre


Research Collaborations: Case Studies

Case Study: Matthias Zilbauer, Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Profiling of human gut models for identification and validation of novel targets for IBD

  • Characterisation of patient-derived mucosal organoids and iPSC derived organoids +/- inflammatory stimuli
  • Healthy vs disease, multiple gut segments
  • Extensive disease model optimisation
  • Functional assay development
  • Integration of computational research to identify key pathways/targets


Case Study: Frank McCaughan, Lung Cancer

Identification of novel epigenetic and co-transcriptional drivers of squamous lung cancer

  • Integrational of computational and experimental approaches
  • AI approaches have been used to identify new potential drugs to treat squamous lung cancer
  • Small molecules being tested in cell lines and the lung organotypic model
  • CRISPR approaches to disrupt novel targets also being deployed
  • Phenotypic and mechanistic studies

Job Opportunities

Research Associate 

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated Research Associate to work within the experimental group of the Milner Therapeutics Institute’s Centre for Pathway Analysis (CPA).

The successful candidate will work on a range of projects spanning target identification, hit confirmation and target validation across a range of therapeutic areas such as oncology, fibrosis, inflammatory, immune and cardiovascular diseases. The overarching goal will be to collaborate with academic laboratories to take disease-relevant human cell models forward and adapt for use in discovery research workflows, primarily CRISPR screening. In addition to academic collaborations, we envisage this role will also have opportunities to interact with industry partners. Experience with specialist human tissue culture (e.g. primary cells, stem cells, co-cultures, 3D assays), CRISPR methodologies (CRISPR screening preferred) and relevant techniques is essential, along with expertise in at least one of the above mentioned therapeutic areas. Prior expertise in the use of organoid models, high throughput assay formats, flow cytometry or imaging is highly desirable. Knowledge of bioinformatics is not essential but will be reviewed favourably.

This is a very exciting time to join our growing team, and we envision that this role will grow in scope and responsibility as the MTI’s functional genomics capabilities evolve. You will contribute to the strategic direction and set standards for the research programmes led by the Principal Investigator and have opportunities to be involved with writing funding applications. As well as working closely with the other members of the experimental team, you will also work closely with the computational biology team to continue to integrate computational and experimental research within the Milner Therapeutics Institute.

The ideal candidate will be educated to PhD level in Biological Sciences, with 2-3 years additional postdoctoral experience. Candidates without a PhD but with equivalent experience will also be considered. Candidates should be highly experienced in human cell culture (including stem cell culture, primary cells, 3D assays) and molecular biology techniques and will possess practical experience of CRISPR genome editing techniques. More detailed information on the requirements of the role can be found on the further particulars.

Please note that interviews for this post will be held 4th and 5th May 2022 interviews may be held virtually.

Closing date: 18th April.

Read more and apply by clicking here


– Disease signature identification and target validation through the
Centre for Pathway Analysis

– Integration of clinical engagement early in discovery research through the CRUK Cambridge Centre

Industry Engagement and Collaboration

– Facilitate pre-clinical industry-academic collaboration across the CRUK Cambridge Centre

– Leverage industry network of the Milner Consortium

10 pre-clinical projects established within the CRUK Cambridge Centre (view projects)

Entrepreneurship and Training

– The MTI is home to accelerator
Start Codon with a number of oncology-focused start-ups

– Oncology companies based within the MTI benefit from facilities & collaborative environment

– We promote training & entrepreneurship through events such as TGIO