The awards will help UK scientists overcome some of the barriers to transforming laboratory discoveries in this emerging field into clinical applications that will address a spectrum of chronic and untreatable medical conditions.
Around £13m will be awarded through the first stage of the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP), which is jointly funded by the MRC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. This will establish three research ‘hubs’ that bring together teams of scientists with skills and expertise in a range of disciplines to tackle the grand challenges in regenerative medicine.
The BHF has pledged a further £7.5 million to fund scientists at three new dedicated research centres, based at prestigious universities across the UK. The three BHF Centres for Regenerative Medicine, funded by the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal, will specialise in looking for new treatments to repair the damage caused by a heart attack.
Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field of science which uses a range of biological tools to repair or replace damaged tissue. This field has the potential to transform medical care by providing treatments for incurable conditions such as heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, blindness and liver failure.
Though there have been many advances in laboratory studies of stem cells and other regenerative approaches, to date relatively few therapies have made it to human trials. This is largely because cell-based therapies are far more complex than traditional small molecule drugs, and require further research and new approaches to make sure they are safe, effective and can be produced in the volumes required to treat large numbers of patients.
The UKRMP hubs will work together, with the BHF centres, to address these issues and develop the tools, technologies and engineering solutions needed to take regenerative therapies into the clinic. The hubs will each focus on a specific theme:
• Engineering and exploiting the stem cell niche (microenvironment), led by the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
• Safety and efficacy of cell therapies, led by the MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science at the University of Liverpool.
• Acellular (biomaterial) approaches and targeted drug delivery for tissue regeneration, led by the University of Nottingham.
A further hub looking at the development of high quality, stable stem cell lines and their direction towards specific tissue types to support manufacture for clinical application is expected to be established later in the year. In total, the UKRMP aims to invest £25m by March 2014.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:
“Regenerative medicine is a hugely promising area of science, which is why it featured in our Strategy for UK Life Sciences and was identified as one of the eight great technologies. This investment will help take excellent basic research through to clinical application, benefitting patients and driving growth.”
Dr Rob Buckle from the MRC, who is Director of the UKRMP, said:
“Today’s investment from the Research Councils and British Heart Foundation will help the UK move closer to realising the full potential of regenerative medicine to transform the lives of patients. By bringing together experts from a broad range of scientific disciplines the hubs will help forge links between academia and industry to drive innovation, promote clinical and commercial development of therapies and help grow a vibrant UK bioindustry in this area.”
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the BHF, said:
“We’re excited by the transformational impact these centres could have on science aimed at repairing heart damage. By working with the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform’s hubs, our BHF Centres of Regenerative Medicine will turn groundbreaking research into real benefits for people with heart failure. We have committed to spending £7.5m on these centres over the coming years from our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal, but this depends crucially on continued support from the public. You can help by supporting our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal.”