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Driving Medical Innovation To Improve the Lives of Patients

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Exciting and impactful research emerges from academic laboratories every single day. This research may have a robust scientific rationale, but in some cases it’s translation to an industry setting may never occur – due to lack of funding, failure to attract an industry partner, or it might just “seem too risky”.

It is vital that researchers are supported when progressing early lab-based findings – ensuring therapeutics and medical technologies reach patients. 

Technology Networks recently spoke LifeArc’s CEO Melanie Lee, PhD, CBE. Melanie elaborates on LifeArc's mission, discusses the importance of bridging the gap between "bench" and "bedside", and highlights how genomics can help drive earlier intervention.

Laura Lansdowne (LL): Who is LifeArc?

Melanie Lee (ML):
We're the charity helping turn great science into benefits for patients. We have a 25-year legacy of collaborating with scientists, translating their work, enhancing and protecting the innovation and advancing promising research along the pathway to the patient. We do this in a few different ways, we help advance medical innovation through our own lab-based research, support and advice on translation, the funding we make available and by developing people with expertise in medical translation.

LL: Can you elaborate on the importance of bridging the gap between “lab” and “patient”? What are some of the current translational challenges?

There is valuable research emerging from academia every day. This research may have strong scientific rationale and be looking at a novel target, mechanism or biomarker but it may be considered too risky to attract additional funding or an industry partner. It needs extra support and development to move from the laboratory to a commercial partner. This is where we step in. Through our expertise in-house, we help translate the science and de-risk the project, so it is ready for the next stage of research – clinical trials and tests in humans – before potentially being approved by the regulatory agencies, and ready for market and use in patients.

It’s important to consider that the rapidly changing, cost-contained healthcare environment is demanding more targeted treatments to justify spending on innovative medicines.
Additionally, the perspective on value is different between payers and industry, with payers making the decisions on what to reimburse. If at the translation stage, early researchers are given the right advice, science and funding this can help accelerate the journey to patient and ensure the value of their product is proven later down the line.

LL: In your talk during ELRIG 2019 you mentioned that current treatment approaches are often based on late-stage disease, what impact does this have on treatment success?

Modern medicine is built around treating symptoms. Diagnostic methods and treatments are typically developed and provided to patients when a disease has resulted in the appearance of symptoms. There is also often a significant amount of time between people developing the disease and the presentation of life-altering symptoms.

Whilst often signs and symptoms are common among patients, they can be individualized, or hidden by other conditions – resulting in a delayed diagnosis.

Throughout this time, the disease state will continue to progress, particularly in cancers or autoimmune conditions. In many cases, as time goes on, disease can spread or become multifaceted. Chronic diseases, if not caught and managed early, can become more severe and patients can develop complications. Both these scenarios make it more difficult to treat and manage the disease and raise costs of healthcare. We need to do more, earlier on, to potentially alter the disease pathway.

Current point of intervention. Credit: LifeArc

LL: How can we shift the point of intervention and more specifically what role does genomics play in terms of early-intervention opportunities?

Healthcare, science and technology are ever-changing and we’re seeing industry focus switching from treating diseases in silos to more patient-centred approaches. We must constantly broaden our understanding, our information, and our skills to keep pace with advances and embrace the future of healthcare.

For this reason, we’re starting to consider our work to reflect the marketplace opportunities to include what we call the “four Ds”: Drugs, Devices, Data and Diagnostics. We need to encourage the drug and devices industry to be more interactive with data and pay more attention to diagnosis.

With data and insights, we can bring together a more complete package of information to meet the future requirements of medicine and potentially treat diseases earlier. Data-driven solutions are developed to diagnose, prevent, monitor and treat disease. Insights from data will be used to help predict disease risk and once we can spot those at risk, we can intervene. These interventions can range from providing guidance on lifestyle choices, to monitoring and screening, to directed treatment through devices or therapeutics.

Detailed information from genetics and genomics will enable diagnostics to
identify patients with the likelihood of developing a condition much earlier in the disease process. With patient genetic profiles it is possible to build technologies around bioinformatics and “omics”. Using this information, screening tests and targeted interventions can be developed and applied to potentially avoid the patient developing that disease at all.

Identifying earlier opportunities for intervention. Credit: LifeArc.

LL: How can LifeArc support researchers within the field of drug discovery?

We work in three core ways within translational science; advice, science and funding:

  • We offer high-quality advice to academia and charities to enable them to translate early science into patient benefit.
  • We conduct translational science leveraging our own drug discovery and diagnostics development facilities, supported by experts in technology transfer and intellectual property.
  • We provide funding to support the development of innovative science, either philanthropically to drive reputation and impact, or with the aim of creating a sustainable return for LifeArc.

We also recognize
the importance of our people at LifeArc and the skills and expertise they bring. One of my objectives is to build the next generation of translational researchers. They are a key part of our future. We have various training schemes which were created to attract and retain the best talent in translational research, including two technology transfer fellowship programs and industrial placement opportunities for UK university students.

Our ambition next year will be to support translational researchers within LifeArc, but also importantly, through fostering collaborations and new partners across the life sciences research and translation space.

Melanie Lee, PhD., was speaking to Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.