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The University of Southampton

Scorpion Primers and the Advance of Medical Diagnostics

Research led by Tom Brown, Professor of Biological Chemistry and his team has been instrumental in making drugs work better. Sophisticated DNA analysis techniques pioneered at Southampton are now being used by the pharmaceutical industry to tailor cancer treatments for individuals to enable the most effective drugs can be used.

Research challenge

Accurately analysing specific DNA sequences can already identify groups of patients who are more likely to respond well to a particular drug, but much more work remains to be done in this area. Professor Brown's Nucleic Acid research group at Southampton has long been interested in the development of personalised medicine; members first embarked on work with AstraZeneca Diagnostics in the 1990s.


The prescription of ineffective drugs puts lives at risk and wastes a great deal of money. Around 90 per cent of drugs work on less than half of patients and many have considerable side effects; it is estimated that around $350billion of the United States' 2008 drugs budget of $770billion was spent on ineffective medicines.

Our solution

Working with AstraZeneca, Professor Brown came up with an entirely original polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method to copy a DNA sequence millions of times for rapid analysis for the detection of mutations in an individual's genome. The breakthrough, now known as Scorpion Technology, has been commercialised through spinout companies and collaborations. The Southampton team has gone on to develop the concept further, and has produced innovative rapid tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Our impact

If scientists can understand the genetic nature of disease, they will know which drugs can work for which people so the correct therapy can be given. This development in drug treatment saves lives, cuts down on stress for patients and avoids large amounts of money being wasted in health services around the world. The Scorpion Technology was patented and provided the impetus for a successful spin-out company, DxS Ltd, which was later acquired by QIAGEN NV, the world-leading provider of assay technologies, in a transaction worth US$120million in 2009.

Profesor Tom Brown's group in collaboration with AstraZeneca
Invented the novel technology
List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Tom BrownVisiting Professor of Chemical Biology
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