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Q&A with 2013 winners: QSAR

We caught up with Dr Steve Enoch from QSAR and Molecular Modelling Group, Liverpool John Moores University, back in 2014, one year after the group won the Lush Science Prize. 


Could you describe who you are and what you do?

I am Dr Steve Enoch, I am part of the QSAR and Molecular Modelling Group at Liverpool John Moores University. We develop in silico tools for regulatory risk assessment and have been directly involved in the development of the OECD QSAR Toolbox and the COSMOS project (part of SEURAT-1). Generally speaking, our approach is around using chemistry to group chemicals into categories enabling predictions of toxicity to be made using read-across. We also work on linking this chemistry into Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs).

Why were you nominated for the prize?

For our work around developing in silico profilers for grouping and category formation. Specifically, for the development of a profiler for respiratory sensitisation. This work extends to defining the chemistry around how low molecular weight chemicals, typically used in cosmetics, interact with proteins in the lung. An in silico profiler allows chemicals to be grouped into categories and toxicity to be predicted via read-across. Our work has also led to us being involved with an international working group into the development of an AOP for respiratory sensitisation (led by Kirstie Sullivan – also a 2013 LUSH prize winner.)

Why did you win the prize?

For our work around defining in silico tools for grouping and category formation. I think we won the prize as we led our field in the development of in silico profilers. This is especially true in the area of respiratory sensitisation, where we developed the first (and only) profiler that enabled chemicals to be grouped into categories suitable for read-across.

What difference has winning the prize made to your contribution to the goal of the ‘three R’s' (Reduction, Refinement, Replacement)?

It led to recognition of what we do and the importance of the grouping and category formation as currently the best way of predicting toxicity without using animals. Following the prize we were asked to contribute a version of our in silico profiler for respiratory sensitisation to the OECD QSAR Toolbox. This is a freely available tool developed by ECHA and the OECD that is used in regulatory risk assessment for the non-animal prediction of toxicity. The development of profilers, enabling chemicals to be grouped in categories offers a direct replacement for animal testing. Importantly, the approach is seen as part of the long-term, AOP-based, alternative to animal testing.

Could you outline how your work overlaps with current governmental policy?

Our work is directly in-line with current EU policy as it attempts to address the needs of industry as a result of the cosmetics directive and REACH legislation. We work closely with both industry, ECHA and the OECD to ensure that we are developing tools based around the AOP paradigm for risk assessment. Transparency of the approach is critical to its acceptance at the OECD level – it is only by ensuring that our methods are mechanistically sound and freely available that we can ensure they will be used in risk assessment.

What did winning the Lush Prize mean to you?

It was an excellent recognition of the work that we have pursued here at Liverpool John Moores University over a number of years. It showed us that we are moving in the right direction, doing the right science that will move the regulatory testing environment away from animal usage. The hare makes a cool talking point with our undergraduate project students too!

How will you continue in your field, to fight against animal testing?

Our plans are to continue to develop detailed chemistry-based profilers for grouping chemicals into categories enabling toxicity to be predicted via read-across. This approach, as part of the emerging AOP paradigm, offers the best long-term solution to the removal of animal testing in the cosmetic industry. We have been fortunate that the University agreed to match the LUSH prize money enabling us to fund a new PhD studentship – from our perspective, this is the best way to ensure the science continues to move forward.

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