12 October - 13 October 2021

RNA as a target for the life sciences

Organised by:

SCI’s Fine Chemicals Group

Online webinar (2 consecutive afternoons): 14:00-17:00 BST

Registration Closed

This event is no longer available for registration.


RNA as a target for small molecules is a rapidly evolving topic of major relevance to modern drug discovery and agrochemical science. Moving beyond the established targets of proteins and DNA, it is increasingly clear that RNA is also adept at binding potential pharmacophores and this contemporary topic is the primary focus of our event.  


With the isolation of reverse transcriptases it became apparent that RNA was not simply a passive intermediate in biological function, and its relevance for the treatment of disease has since become clear. The first antisense oligonucleotide that modified mRNA expression was approved in 1998 and since the 2006 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded for discovering the mechanism of RNA interference only three years earlier, interest in small interfering RNA as a treatment has been a major field of research with the first drug approval in 2018. It is also now increasingly clear it is feasible to target RNA with small molecules, with numerous start-ups established and a plethora of collaborations with global leaders in the Life Sciences announced in recent years. Here, we are inviting leading experts from these organisations to discuss current and future aspects of this field. 


* We will offer for this event a limited amount of student bursaries of up to £40 to students who wish to attend the event, to apply please contact conferences@soci.org. Please note that if you are not a SCI member student you will have to apply for SCI membership which is £25.


Bringing together contemporary chemical biology and established small molecule research, this event is of significant interest to students and academics in chemistry, biology and pharmacy as well as the established pharmaceutical and agrochemical sectors and the broader biotech community. 


Prof Anh Tuan Phan

Nanyang Technological University

Dr Anh Tuan Phan obtained a PhD in Biophysics from École Polytechnique, France in 1999 (under the supervision of Dr Maurice Guéron and Dr Jean-Louis Leroy). He took up a research scientist position at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York (with Dr Dinshaw Patel). He joined the faculty of Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) in 2006 and is now holding the Lee Soo Ying Professorship in Biological Physics. His group has made significant contributions in understanding non-canonical nucleic acid motifs, particularly the i-motif and the G-quadruplex. Recently, his research focuses on the development structure-enhanced (SEA) nucleic acid therapeutics. Dr Phan was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS).

Dr Beth Thomas

Storm Therapeutics

Beth has over 20 years of experience in medicinal and computational chemistry. She is currently working at STORM Therapeutics as Director, Medicinal Chemistry where she been since its inception. STORM Therapeutics is the first company to target the entirely new area of RNA modifying enzymes and has recently announced a first-in-class clinical candidate targeting METTL3.
Beth has also worked at Celltech, UCB, BioFocus, University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Crystallogarphic Data Centre. She completed her B.Sc. in Chemistry at the University of St Andrews followed by a Ph.D. in polyketide biosynthesis with Profs. Staunton and Leadlay at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Daniel Palacios


Daniel Palacios obtained his B.S. from the University of California at San Diego (2005) and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with Prof. Marty Burke (2011). Subsequently, he joined the Global Discovery Chemistry organization at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research where he has worked in chemical biology and medicinal chemistry groups, leading projects ranging from hit and target identification to lead optimization and clinical candidate selection. He is currently a Senior Principal Scientist investigating novel therapeutic modalities for neurological diseases.

Dr Kamal Azzaoui

Saverna Therapeutics

Kamal Azzaoui received his PhD in computational chemistry from the University of Orléans followed by two postdocs at McGill University and Georgetown University. He also holds a Master for Advanced Science (MAS) from the Swiss Institute for Translational and Entrepreneurial Medicine (sitem-insel, university of Bern). He worked for more than 15 years in pharmaceutical industry in charge of data analysis, data modeling, drug design using machine learning, cheminformatics and molecular modeling tools. Since 2017, he is the CEO and co-founder of Saverna Therapeutics, a Swiss start-up aiming to discover drugs for non-coding RNAs targets.

Dr Iris Alroy


Dr Iris Alroy has broad background and more than 20 years of experience in small molecule drug discovery, preclinical development, and development of IND-enabling studies. Dr. Alroy was VP of Discovery at Proteologics, where she established several research programs for the identification of small molecules inhibiting the activity of E3 ubiquitin ligases in HIV-1 and Cancer. Subsequently, she was VP R&D at Pharmos Corp., in which she managed organic and medicinal chemistry, biology and pharmacology groups. Dr. Alroy was also entrepreneur and CEO of startup biotech companies, Fusimab, Ltd., ProMining Therapeutics Ltd., developing bispecific antibodies and small molecules, respectively.

Dr Jon Hall

ETH Zürich – Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Jonathan Hall received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Imperial College in London in 1988. He did post-doctoral work with J.-M. Lehn in Strasbourg (FR)and with Y. Kishi in Cambridge (USA). He joined the nucleic acids section at Ciba Central Research Labs in Basel in 1992 and in 2000 he was promoted to head the group. In 2003 he was presented with the Novartis Leading Scientist Award. In 2007 he joined the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the ETH as Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and in 2012 he served as Chairman of the Institute. A principal goal of his inter-disciplinary group at the ETH is to help bring RNA as a drug and a target into mainstream pharmaceutical

Dr Kevin Weeks

University of North Carolina / Ribometrix

Dr Kevin Weeks is a Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The vision of his laboratory is to use chemical principles to explore the central role of RNA in biology with a focus on real-world problems and understanding human disease. RNA SHAPE and single-molecule RING technologies, invented in his laboratory, are used worldwide. Dr Weeks is a Fulbright and a Searle Scholar, an NIH EUREKA awardee, a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science, the founder of Ribometrix, and has taught many hundreds of undergraduates first year chemistry.

Prof Matt Disney

Scripps Research

Matt Disney is currently Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Scripps Research on the Florida Campus. His laboratory works in the area of small molecule targeting of RNA. The lab studies regarding molecular recognition events between RNA folds and small molecules to attempt to solve problems of biomedical importance. The lab’s research has garnered various awards including the Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences, Barry Cohen Award in Medicinal Chemistry, NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award, the Eli Lily Award in Biological Chemistry, the David W. Robertson Award in Medicinal Chemistry, and others.


Tuesday 12 October

Welcome & Introduction
Structure-based discovery of new functions in large RNAs
Prof Kevin Weeks, UNC-Chapel Hill and Ribometrix
New ways of targeting using oligonucleotides
Prof Jon Hall, ETH Zürich – Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Small molecule mRNA splice modulators in neurological diseases
Daniel Palacios, Novartis
Drugging RNA modifying enzymes
Dr Beth Thomas, Storm Therapeutics
Panel discussion
Closing remarks

Wednesday 13 October

mRNA translation modulators binding to novel targets: from mRNA processing to mRNA translation
Dr Iris Alroy, Anima Biotech
Targeting microRNAs for therapy - lessons learned
Dr Kamal Azzaoui, Saverna Therapeutics AG
G-quadruplexes as therapeutic targets and delivery scaffolds”
Prof Anh Tuan Phan, Nanyang Technological University
Sequence-based design of bioactive small molecules targeting RNA
Prof Matthew Disney, Scripps Research and Expansion Therapeutics
Panel discussion
Closing remarks


Before early bird – Ends 30 September 2021
SCI member - £80
Non-member - £155
SCI student member - £40
After early bird
SCI member - £135
Non-member - £210
SCI student member - £40

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Please email conferences@soci.org for further information and prices.

Organising committee

Karl Collins, SCI / Bayer
Fred Hancock, SCI
Silvia Bonomo, SCI / AstraZeneca
Daniel Jones, SCI / Charles River Laboratories
Fiona Laraman, SCI / AstraZeneca
Caroline Low, SCI / Google DeepMind
Jason Tierney, SCI / Anima Biotech 

Conference team
Tel: +44 (0)20 7598 1561
Email: conferences@soci.org