The U.K.’s Medical Research Council (MRC) plans to invest $17.1 million in three major new collaborations that will advance the emerging field of stratified medicine—investigating why different patients with the same diagnosis respond differently to treatments.
The collaborations will look at stratified medicine approaches in three diseases which have a huge impact on people’s lives: rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C and a rare genetic condition called Gaucher disease. The awards will establish research consortia in each of these diseases in order to draw on the expertise of scientists, industry and patient charities, underpinned by the infrastructure of the NHS. The three consortia will combine 34 academic groups and 20 industry partners with charities and patients across the U.K.
“Stratified medicine is all about selecting the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time,” said Patrick Johnston, chair of the MRC’s Translational Research Group, which funded the awards. “Only by harnessing a diverse mix of knowledge and expertise from across academia, industry and medical charities can we gain the deeper understanding of illnesses needed to make those decisions and deliver more effective treatments targeted to patients’ needs. The consortia funded by the MRC will allow U.K. researchers and health professionals to take those important first steps to developing a stratified approach to patient care.”
The first collaboration is STOP-HCV, a hepatitis C consortium led by the University of Oxford, which will develop cutting-edge gene sequencing technologies to find out why 30% of people fail to respond to a new type of hepatitis treatment called direct antiviral therapy. The group of 14 academic institutions and eight industry partners will use a state-of-the-art clinical database and a bio-repository of blood samples from hepatitis C infected people that has been established by HCV Research U.K.—a multi-disciplinary collaborative enterprise funded by a $3.1 million grant from the Medical Research Foundation and based at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. Thisinformation will help the STOP-HCV consortium to decipher the genetic makeup of both the virus and the patient and draw this information together to improve patient care.
The second collaboration is the MATURA consortium, led by Queen Mary, University of London, aims to enable early, effective treatment and improve the cost-effectiveness of care for around 500,000 people in the U.K. who suffer from the painful inflammatory condition rheumatoid arthritis. It will search for biological and genetic markers in blood and joints which could be used as clues to predict how patients will respond to anti-inflammatory drugs. If successful it is estimated that a stratified treatment approach for this condition could save the NHS $21 million to $29 million a year. Co-funded by a $1.6 million grant from Arthritis Research U.K., this project combines 12 academic groups with nine industry partners.
Lastly, the GAUCHERITE consortium aims to improve the care of people with Gaucher, a rare genetic disorder in which a build-up of fatty chemicals causes bleeding, painful skeletal complaints and swelling of some internal organs. Even identical twins differ markedly in disease severity, indicating that non-genetic components play a role in the condition. Five treatments are currently available, but patients could respond differently to drugs because of the complexity of the disease. GAUCHERITE will bring together specialist doctors and scientists, led by Cambridge University, who will examine at least 85% of all U.K. Gaucher patients and “stratify” them by the nature of their disease to allow them to better target therapy interventions. They will also work closely with major industrial partners and patient groups.
The $96 million, four-year MRC investment in stratified medicine research was announced as part of the U.K. Life Sciences Strategy. The MRC received 30 outline applications in 28 disease areas for the initiative. An expert panel—comprised of clinicians; academics; representatives of pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostics companies; disease charities and international members—shortlisted six applications which were invited to submit full applications. The MRC has developed a rolling program for consortia development and other disease areas will soon be competing for funding.
“These consortia bring together the UK’s world class universities, health charities and industry to improve drug development,” said David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science. “They have the potential to improve patient care and help make the U.K. the location of choice for clinical trials. This will help us get ahead in the global race.”