Introducing NATA; the Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator
by Guest Author on 7 Feb 2020
We’re launching a new initiative with a mission to unlock the potential of precision genetic medicines and speed up clinical developments. Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University and Champion of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, tells us more about the Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator.
Today, I was delighted to join the launch event for the Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator (NATA), hosted by Professor Fiona Watt, the Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, with interim NATA Director Professor Matthew Wood.
The NATA is a new national research initiative with a mission to unlock the potential of precision genetic medicines and accelerate the development of nucleic acid (NA) therapies. These therapies have the potential to tackle diseases that arise in patients who have genetic errors in their DNA. By using novel nucleic acids as tools, scientists can modify or reduce the expression of faulty genes that cause disease.
Despite the recent approval of some high-profile NA therapy drugs, success has been modest. The development of NA therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s depend on their accurate delivery to specific target organs or tissues within a patient’s body. For NA medicines to truly underpin a paradigm shift in healthcare, we need to address some major scientific and industrial challenges: precise and accurate delivery; safety; and the high cost and complexities of manufacture.
By capitalising on the UK’s industrial and academic research base, through the NATA we’ll help accelerate the development of new therapies by developing technologies and removing technical challenges in the field.
The NATA has the potential to make a positive impact in a range of areas. Patients will ultimately benefit through improved health outcomes from a new generation of precision medicine. Businesses will benefit from the NATA de-risking and enabling NA drug development. Researchers will benefit from an enhanced knowledge base specific to NA therapies and access to innovative delivery technologies, giving this field a greater prominence in the UK. UK workers will benefit from high-quality jobs created by an emerging industrial sector.
The project will be based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, at the heart of a growing Life Health Cluster. It will benefit from and contribute to the campus’ world-class scientific talent, ecosystem and related facilities, including the Research Complex at Harwell and the new Rosalind Franklin Institute. The project is currently being run by an interim team of experienced industry and academic scientists and managed by an interim director, Professor Matthew Wood.
Working in partnership
Partnership is at the core of the NATA model – successful delivery of the NATA mission to accelerate the development of NA therapies can only be done in collaboration with stakeholders across the academic, industrial and charity sectors. The NATA will be outward-facing and highly collaborative: it will take a flexible approach to partnership, developing research programmes to benefit the whole NA community, with partners benefitting from collaboration while retaining full control over their existing assets.
We are excited that the next six months will see the NATA open for business, with the recruitment of a permanent Executive Director and the opening of a state-of-the-art facility. It was great to see this launch enable dialogue to begin across the research community and we look forward to engaging further on nucleic acid therapies across all sectors.