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Medical breakthroughs on the horizon with £32m boost for UK research

26 Mar 2015

New treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies are set to benefit from an investment of £32 million through the Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) – a partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK.

This MRC and Innovate UK funding will be further boosted by over £8 million of investment leveraged from industry bringing the total investment for this round to £40 million.

This seventh round of the BMC, which is now in its third year, will support 38 awards in universities and companies across the UK, from Aberdeen to Somerset, that have the potential to transform the lives of patients with a range of conditions. This includes 20 MRC Confidence in Concept awards to universities to support a portfolio of early stage translational projects.

BMC grants are available to UK academics and small to medium-sized businesses seeking to take their research from discovery through to commercialisation to deliver patient benefit. Any UK small or medium-sized business or academic undertaking research and development has been able to apply to the BMC on a rolling basis, with applications assessed by independent experts.

This latest round of awards brings the number of BMC awards to 293 (168 funded by Innovate UK – formerly the Technology Strategy Board – and 125 funded by the MRC). Since 2011, when it was set up, there has been a total investment of £350 million split equally between the MRC, Innovate UK and leveraged funding from industry. 

Among the projects supported in this round are:

  • The first in-human trial of a drug that targets one of the defects in the brain linked to schizophrenia. Over £3.2 million will support a collaboration between three universities and Autifony Therapeutics to gain a valuable insight into how the drug works before larger studies are carried out. This project is joint-funded by the MRC and Innovate UK (See further details below.)
  • Researchers at UCL will receive £1.6 million to develop a home testing kit for bladder cancer in people with blood in the urine, potentially sparing patients the discomfort of a cystoscopy.
  • The common cold can increase the risk of an asthma attack. Scientists at Imperial College London will receive £1.3 million to tackle this by trialling a new drug that minimises the inflammation that colds cause which can lead to an asthma attack. (See further details below.)
  • University of Leicester scientists have been awarded almost £2 million to develop and trial a gel to minimise post-operation scarring containing salbutamol, a commonly used asthma drug.
  • Retinopathy – damage to blood vessels at the back of the eye – is a serious and common complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. The company KalVista have been awarded £2.4 million to develop an oral drug that builds on their previous work which found that this damage is caused by a protein called plasma kallikrein that causes blood vessels to become leaky. 
  • Using the movement sensor from a games console could improve brain imaging to diagnose and monitor people with dementia. Many imaging techniques are limited by even the slightest movement of patients and researchers at Imperial College hope that combining PET imaging with the movement sensor could overcome this.

Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities said:

“Getting an idea to market is one of the hardest challenges any entrepreneur or small businesses will face when trying to turn their innovative ideas into a reality. The Biomedical Catalyst is giving a real lifeline to research and projects that will help improve or save countless lives.”

Dr Chris Watkins, Director of Translational Research and Industry at the MRC, said:

“Biomedical Catalyst funding is all about supporting exciting ideas and excellent science in order to accelerate the speed with which innovative projects can reach the marketplace and then go on to deliver real benefit for patients. Just a few weeks ago we announced the start of trials for a world-first therapy for lung cancer funded in an earlier round of BMC awards.  British patients will receive a pioneering gene-cell therapy that might transform the treatment of metastatic lung cancer.”

Zahid Latif, Head of Health and Care at Innovate UK said:

“The UK’s life sciences industry is behind some of the most exciting discoveries and new healthcare products of the moment and the Biomedical Catalyst programme will help that continue.

“The Catalyst provides crucial support for small firms like KalVista and Autifony, without which they would not have been able to take the next step on the long road to bring their potentially life changing drugs to the market.”

Further information:

Targeting a cause of schizophrenia: Around one in 100 people will experience schizophrenia in their lifetimes. While it is treated with a combination of medication and therapy tailored to each individual, some with the condition experience a range of other conditions that can have a major impact on their lives. The Biomedical Catalyst is supporting the first trial of a drug that targets one of the defects in the brain linked to schizophrenia. The trial of the drug – which works by acting on the brain circuits that are faulty in schizophrenia – will give vital information on how it acts in the body, what the best dose is and a test to determine how effective it is. This next stage in the development of the drug is supported with over £3.2 million in funding, with £1.15 million from the MRC and £1.25 from Innovate UK. The drug is being developed by Autifony, a small business based in London, working with researchers from Kings College London, Manchester and Newcastle universities. 

Drug to stop asthma attacks caused by colds: The common cold is a nuisance for many but can cause a serious worsening of symptoms for people with asthma. To tackle this, the Biomedical Catalyst is supporting researchers at Imperial College London with £1.3 million (£1.2 million coming from the Medical Research Council) to trial a new drug that stops the immune system from overreacting to colds, reducing the inflammation that can cause asthma attacks. The trial will look at the effect the drug has on the airways of 28 people with asthma who are deliberately given a cold. This work builds on a previous BMC collaboration with the manufacturer, Atopix Therapeutics Limited, to develop the same drug for the treatment of eczema.

MRC’s Confidence in Concept awards were launched in 2012 and are awarded annually through a competitive process based on review of the vision of the universities.

Categories

  • Categories: Funding
  • Health categories: Cancer, Eye, Mental Health, Neurological, Respiratory
  • Strategic objectives: Mental health and wellbeing, Repair and replacement, Securing impact from medical research
  • Locations: Other
  • Type: News article