Minister announces £14m investment in stratified medicine
29 Jan 2015
Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman today announced a further £13.7 million investment in stratified medicine collaborations funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).
These four new awards bring the total of stratified medicine consortia funded by the MRC to thirteen with investment totalling over £52 million – part of the government’s £130 million commitment to stratified medicine set out in the UK Life Sciences Strategy.
Stratified medicine research uses diagnostic tests or techniques to group patients within a disease area through their genes or by their symptoms. This enables doctors to provide more targeted treatment for patients based on their risk of disease or how they are expected to respond to treatment.
As well as the benefit for patients and those who treat them, this approach has benefits for industry because of the potential for more efficient therapeutic development - as well as the market expansion for new treatments. The thirteen collaborations have attracted more than fifty small, medium and large pharmaceutical and biotechnology partners from across the UK and also from Europe, the US and wider afield, including China and Japan.
The consortia also include thirty-two academic partners and a number of charities. Two charities – Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation – have co-funded collaborations in this round, and Arthritis Research UK helped fund one of the initiatives already announced.
The UK is particularly well-placed to develop stratified medicine approaches because of its strong academic and industrial research bases, the wealth of data within the NHS and because of the unrivalled datasets provided by established long-term patients cohorts, the UK Biobank and the world’s first national phenome centre.
The consortia funded in this round cover a spectrum of diseases from the rare condition Systemic Lupus Erythematosus to more common conditions affecting millions of patients.
Previous MRC stratified medicine partnerships have used the approach to develop diagnostic tools and treatment strategies in rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, schizophrenia and primary biliary cirrhosis.
Speaking at the Future of Healthcare Investor Forum at the London Stock Exchange this morning (Thursday 29th January), where he opened the market, George Freeman said:
“The UK is a world-leader in the life sciences and the sector is central to economic growth. Since the launch of our UK Strategy for Life Sciences in 2011 the industry has agreed over £3.5 billion of investment in the UK, which is expected to create over 11,000 jobs. In the wider context, Ernst & Young’s State of the Nation report in October showed that UK life-science companies raised £734 million of innovation capital in the first half of 2014, surpassing the £483 million raised in the whole of 2013, and figures just released show that £1.5 billion in innovation capital was raised in the UK over the whole year.
“With the City of London as a global financial centre at the heart of the London-Oxford-Cambridge ‘med-city’ cluster, London is one of the best places in the world to start and finance a life sciences company, with some of the world’s best venture capital investors. That is why it is fitting to be at the London Stock Exchange today, to celebrate £1.25 billion raised in Life Sciences IPOs and follow on offerings on the stock exchange in 2014.
I’m delighted today to announce a further £13.7 million investment by government in the UK life sciences sector, in the form of four new stratified medicine collaborations. Bringing together UK universities, the NHS and commercial partners, these collaborations will investigate targeted treatments that will benefit patients with cancer, heart disease, asthma and lupus.
“As part of our strategy for the life sciences we are bringing together industry with the assets and capabilities of researchers in universities and the NHS to revolutionise the way we look at getting better treatments into the health service and make sure that the UK remains one of the best places in the world for 21st Century medical innovation.”
Professor Sir John Savill, the MRC’s chief executive, said:
“The goal of stratified medicine is to provide patients with the best treatments by ensuring that existing medicines are targeted at those who will derive most benefit but also by accelerating the development of new therapies. Achieving this goal requires partnerships that harness the diverse mix of knowledge, expertise and commitment of academia, industry and patients.
“Here in the UK, we’re ideally placed to be at the forefront of this field because we can combine excellence in research with access to some of the highest quality clinical resources and data in the world. This is attracting small, medium and large companies from across the UK and internationally to partner with us. The consortia we are supporting are keen to work with new partners and we shall be considering further disease areas that might benefit from this approach.”
The MRC Stratified Medicine Consortia funded in this tranche:
PI: Prof Ian Bruce, University of Manchester
Consortium members: Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Cambridge; UCL, Imperial, King’s College London, Royal National Hospital, MRC Biostatistics Unit and Guy’s & St Thomas’.
Funded by the MRC (c£4.2m).
The MASTERPLANS consortium will ‘stratify’ patients with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), a chronic incurable disease caused by a person's immune system attacking organs and tissues such as the joints, skin, kidneys and brain. It affects around 1 in 2,000 people in the UK and there is currently huge variability in how well patients respond to the handful of drugs available to treat the condition. Each patient has their own ‘fingerprint’ of disease, with different organs involved and to varying degrees of severity. Without a way to predict which patients will respond best to which drugs, many sufferers are exposed to high levels of steroids without seeing a noticeable improvement in their condition.
The MASTERPLANS team will work to identify factors that predict which patients respond well on any particular lupus treatment. Sample tissue, blood and urine from patients with skin or renal lupus will be used to identify biological predictors that will allow doctors to identify the treatment most likely to be effective.
AIM HY (Hypertension)
PI: Professor Phil Chowienczyk, King’s College London
Consortium members: Universities of Cambridge, Nottingham, Glasgow and Manchester; UCL, Queen Mary, MRC Biostatistics Unit, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, University of Florida.
Funded by the MRC (c£2.3m) and the British Heart Foundation (c£1.1m).
High blood pressure (hypertension) is extremely common within the general population in the UK and worldwide and is a major cause of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. One in three of the UK population will require treatment for hypertension at some point in their lives.
It’s the biggest contributor to the global burden of disease, a burden that is particularly great in ethnic minorities in the UK and in lower and middle income countries. It is also the commonest reason for people to be prescribed long-term medication by their GP.
In most people with hypertension, a healthy lifestyle alone is not enough to control blood pressure, and drug treatment is required. There are a wide variety of drugs available and although these are effective and safe, it is often necessary to try different types of drugs and sometimes a combination of two or more drugs. Delay in choosing the right kind of tablet or combination of tablets through "trial and error" is a major problem and, in a large proportion of people with hypertension, blood pressure is not adequately controlled.
The AIM HY consortium will examine whether treatment for high blood pressure can be improved by taking a person’s ethnic heritage into account. This is based on the fact that people from certain ethnic backgrounds, such as people from Africa, are at a much higher risk of developing hypertension. Genetics also plays a role in how patients respond to treatment for hypertension, with different responses between populations in Europe, Asia and Africa.
AIM HY will investigate whether genetic markers of ancestry (which predict the proportion of a person's ancestors from Europe, Asia and Africa), combined with detailed information about the chemical makeup of their blood, can predict the best type of drug or combination of drugs for that person.
High blood pressure is currently treated using a range of generic, low cost drugs. These drugs are not always effective, particularly in ethnic minority groups. Yet, there is little drive by the pharmaceutical industry to produce new, more effective drugs. This project will provide the evidence for selecting the drug treatments in an ethnically diverse population like the UK. This may involve using non-standard combinations of existing drugs and/or new drugs. If a combination of drugs is required we can use a new technology to put these into a single tablet.
The ultimate aim is to deliver personalised treatment for high blood pressure, based on a single blood test that captures the genetic and other biological factors that determine how an individual will respond.
This should reduce the number of consultations; the time required to achieve optimal blood pressure control and contribute to better hypertension control in the UK.
S-CORT (Colorectal Cancer)
PI: Professor Tim Maughan, Cancer Research UK and Medical Research Council Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology, University of Oxford
Consortium members: Queen’s University Belfast, Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Aberdeen, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and UCL.
Funded by the MRC (c£2.5m) and Cancer Research UK (c£2.5m)
Over 40,000 people were diagnosed and 16,000 died from colorectal cancer in the UK in 2011. If the disease is caught early, 93 per cent can be cured by surgery to remove the tumour. However, in those whose disease is more advanced (metastatic) treatment options are limited to chemo or radiotherapy. But these treatments only work in about half of patients and cause toxic side effects, without benefit, in the remainder. This is because genetic changes in their cancer cells can cause treatments to fail in particular patients. By learning more about these changes, scientists hope to develop a clinical test(s) that could be given to all CRC patients upon diagnosis to allow them to have a tailor made treatment plan, which is guided by their individual biological makeup.
PI: Professor Liam Heaney, Queen’s University, Belfast
Consortium members: Universities of Oxford, Leicester, Glasgow, Southampton, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, King’s College London, Imperial, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and Asthma UK
Funded by the MRC (c£4.8m)
One in 50 people suffers from severe asthma, with treatment costs for this group alone exceeding those for the 10-15% of the UK population who suffer from a milder form of the disease. Despite the huge disparity in symptom severity, international treatment guidelines recommend a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, with all patients being given inhaled and oral steroids in escalating doses. Recent research has hinted that a stratified approach might be more successful and several drugs are in development that will target specific subsets of patients.
The RASP-UK consortium will take a two-pronged approach, assessing treatment adherence using remote monitoring technologies and also biological markers to split asthma patients into two broad groups, based on the different types of inflammation present in their lungs.
A new drug will be tested on the T2-High group, while the T2-Low patients will be studied further in a bid to understand more about their disease and potentially identify new treatments that will be effective for this group.
Earlier MRC support for stratified medicine
The three pilot consortia funded under the original MRC/ABPI Inflammation and Immunity Initiative were the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) MRC/ABPI Partnership, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Consortium and the MRC APBI Stratification and Extreme Response Mechanism in Diabetes (MASTERMIND).
The initiative’s first awards, totalling around £25 million, were made to six consortia: MATURA (Rheumatoid arthritis, funded in collaboration with Arthritis Research UK; STOP-HCV (hepatitis C); The GAUCHERITE consortium ( a rare genetic condition called Gaucher’s disease); UK-PBC (the liver disorder primary biliary cirrhosis); STRATA (schizophrenia) and PSORT (psoriasis).