NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK is making a bold investment in life sciences and biomedical science and industry through several new initiatives announced this week by Prime Minister David Cameron's government, including £360 million ($566 million) in new funding for biomedical research.
The new Life Sciences Strategy effort includes £130 million for research into stratified medicines and mechanisms of disease, £180 million for a biomedical catalyst project, and £75 million to expand the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, and funding for other initiatives.
Beyond the financial investments, the new strategy includes a number of measures to spur start-up businesses in the life sciences, enhance data-sharing opportunities among researchers, support advances in synthetic biology, and advance science into cellular therapies and regenerative medicine.
Unveiling the new plans on Monday, Cameron explained that because advances in science are enabling new medical capabilities and industrial opportunities, the UK needs to take steps to support research and aid businesses seeking to translate science into medicine and commerce if it wants to keep up in the global biotech market.
Cameron said that the new initiatives "are testament to our ambition: not just to hang on in there with a significant foot-hold in the global market, but to take an even bigger share of that market in the years to come. I want the great discoveries of the next decade happening in British labs, the new technologies born in British start-ups."
The £75 million to expand EBI in Cambridge will come from the UK's Large Capital Fund for the ELIXIR research infrastructure network, which is a pan-European effort to bolster life sciences experiments and ensure that Europe can handle the vast volumes of data pouring out of DNA seqeuncing reserach.
The funding will support the construction of ELIXIR's central bioinformatics hub at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), to be located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridge.
"The collaborative and centrally accessible approach represented by ELIXIR is the most effective and efficient way for life scientists to store, manage, share and interpret information," Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Chief Executive Douglas Kell said in a statement. "Through ELIXIR, we are ensuring our researchers have access to the best infrastructure and services now and in the future. ELIXIR will help us maximize the outputs and impact of the UK's world-leading life science research base."
The £130m in funding for stratified medicines will be added to current investments by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board, and will be split into three MRC-funded research programs.
One program will provide £60 million over three years to fund studies pursue difficult questions in chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Through another project, MRC will commit £60 million over four years to collaborations in stratified medicine between academia, industry, and clinicians. These projects will seek to advance targeted treatments and diagnostics for specific groups of patients suffering from the same broad diseases, including heat disease, asthma, or mental health disorders.
MRC also will use £10 million for a collaboration with AstraZeneca, which is providing 22 compounds to academic researchers who will use them to develop new treatments.
The Life Sciences Strategy also will pump £180 million into a program to nurture innovative technologies developed by academics or the commercial sector as they advance towards commercialization. The MRC/TSB Biomedical Catalyst Fund is aimed at helping small-to-medium sized enterprises and academics develop their technologies past the 'valley of death' funding gap that can drag down new innovations before they are ready to be taken to the market.
The strategic plan also includes an investment of £50 million over five years to fund a new Cell Therapy and Technology Innovation Centre that will be based in London.
Because synthetic biology offers potential benefits in areas such as healthcare, bio-energy, and industrial biotechnology, the new strategy calls for the creation of an independent panel to develop a technology roadmap to help the UK build up its synbio industry.
Also included in the Life Sciences Strategy is a £60 million investment from the National Institute of Health Research to fund London's Academic and Health Sciences Centres at Imperial College, Kings Health Partners, and UCL Partners in developing secure data linkage services for research purposes. This effort will seek to explore the potential of pulling data from patients in London for use in clinical research focused on disease-specific and personalized therapies, regenerative medicine, and medical devices.