U.K. puts Cambridge at the heart of £50M precision medicine program

The United Kingdom has put Cambridge at the heart of its £50 million ($78 million) push into precision medicines. Cambridge is to host the headquarters of the precision medicine network, from which a team will coordinate regional centers to support the advance of targeted therapies through the clinic and into real-world use.   

Innovate UK, the government's innovation agency, is to plough £50 million into the initiative over the next 5 years, some of which will go toward the creation of a headquarters on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The role of the headquarters and the rest of the Precision Medicine Catapult--a replication of the model already applied to cell therapies--is to link businesses to the U.K.'s research and academic communities. Specific objectives of the program include the testing and validation of clinical trial models tailored to the needs of precision medicines and creation of routes to market.

"This is a great move to put the U.K. at the forefront of this burgeoning area of science," MedCity Executive Chair Eliot Forster said in a statement emailed to FierceBiotech. "It will attract significant interest and new investment." Forster sees the program as helping the U.K. quickly advance research into the commercial arena, something that hasn't always happened in other areas of drug development. "The new catapult will give a real boost to our capacity to commercialize our innovative research in precision medicine," he said.

In some regards, the thinking behind the creation of the catapult is reminiscent of the vision for the future of biopharma R&D that emerged at the start of the ongoing review into the future of drug development in the U.K. Better use of National Health Service (NHS) infrastructure and cooperation with industry are central to both strategies. An example from the precision medicine program is the development of tests, a task that will be tackled by working with diagnostic companies and the health service to ensure that the products are validated to the level demanded by the NHS. 

The organizers of the catapult felt Cambridge was best placed to tap into and coordinate these resources. Once the headquarters is fully operational--which is scheduled to happen by the end of the 2016-17 financial year--it will work with other regional centers of excellence. Some of its likely partners are far closer to home, with the city's university and cluster of life science firms--notably new arrival Illumina ($ILMN)--being possible collaborators with the catapult.  

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