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UK Embarking on $80M PGx Partnership

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government plans to pump £50 million ($79.9 million) over the next five years into a multi-partner effort aimed at pushing pharmacogenomics science and business forward by funding research into biomarker development and cancer tumor profiling.

The Technology Strategy Board said this week that it will offer up to £11 million for the first competitions, open in January 2011, for grants to pharmacogenomics researchers under the Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform. So far, TSB has received commitments from the Department of Health, the Scottish Government Health Directorates, the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to partner in the program.

“The UK possesses many strengths needed to accelerate the innovation of stratified medicines and lead the world in developing medicines targeted at smaller subgroups of patients,” Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said in a statement.

Willetts said that the new collaboration will “bring together the private sector, researchers, and policymakers to achieve this vision and help to rebalance the economy.”

“Through this project, we'll have a wealth of genetic information in two years that could be used to develop the personalized cancer drugs of the future,” Cancer Research UK’s CEO Harpal Kumar said.

“This is one of the most important programs that Cancer Research UK has ever been involved in. We need to start work now to ensure that the [National Health Service] is ready to deal with the new generation of targeted treatments that are emerging,” Kumar continued.

The initiative at first will focus on therapeutic areas that are particularly challenging to healthcare providers and, are ready for a stratified approach, and which provide a significant market opportunity.

The first two project areas of focus include tumor profiling and related technologies for lung, breast, prostate, ovarian skin, and colorectal cancers, and development of biomarkers for use in predicting responses to marketed drugs in development, or in health conditions that are of clinical and commercial importance to the UK.

Cancer Research UK will contribute to the effort by working with hospitals and labs to improve genetic testing services, and it will collect genetic data from tumors and information on how genetic factors affect patient survival.

“The aim of our program is to improve genetic testing in the NHS while collecting valuable research data,” said James Peach, director of Cancer Research UK’s stratified medicine program.

“Our initiative will pilot new ways of genetic testing over the next two years to develop examples that the NHS can then adopt nationally,” Peach added.

Cancer Research UK said that an additional £5.5 million will be available this year for supporting efforts to develop biomarkers for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Stratified Medicines Innovation Program will give grants to develop tests that can cover many of the known mutations of the most common cancer, lower the costs of genetic testing and make these tests more reliable, and improving their commercial availability. Companies also may be able to propose developing IT systems that can link clinical and genetic data together.

Cancer Research UK will partner with Life Technologies and Pfizer to collect the tumor samples for a range of cancers.

“Although the program won’t change the drugs patients can get straight away we know that this information on the mutations inside tumors is going to become more and more important in the future,” Peach explained.

“This program will lead to the application of innovative technologies, help contribute to better patient outcomes in the future and enable cost savings in the NHS,” Peter Silvester, GM for Life Technologies in Europe, added.

“It’s important that the NHS is ready to deal with the new generation of targeted drugs that are emerging, and that research is hardwired into the day-to-day treatment of patients,” said Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Clinical Research.

“We hope that investing in the infrastructure to make this happen now will make a real difference for cancer patients in the future,” Law added.

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