A chest X-ray demonstrating severe COPD (cropped)

Cambridge has been part of a successful £16 million bid to work with the MRC, GSK and four other UK universities in a unique open innovation research initiative aiming to improve scientists’ understanding of inflammatory diseases that present a serious burden to patients.

The Experimental Medicine Initiative to Explore New Therapies (EMINENT) network will be coordinated by University College London (UCL) and will bring together teams of researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Glasgow, Newcastle, Imperial College London and UCL, with GSK researchers to study the fundamental biological mechanisms responsible for a range of inflammatory diseases. Professor Edwin Chilvers, Professor of Respiratory Medicine, will be leading the University of Cambridge’s involvement, and his colleagues Professors Arthur Kaser and Ken Smith and Dr David Jayne will be leading research themes.

It is hoped that combining the disease biology expertise of these academic scientists with GSK’s drug development expertise and resources will ultimately lead to breakthroughs in understanding that could accelerate the development of innovative treatments for patients.

Drug development is a lengthy, costly and risky process, with the majority of promising treatments failing in clinical trials and hence never reaching patients as medicines. This is because the biological processes that underlie many diseases are still not fully understood.

By gaining a better understanding of the inflammatory process in diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and fibrosis, the collaboration aims to improve the success rate for discovering new potential treatments for these and other diseases.

Through the unique EMINENT network, MRC funding of up to £8m over five years will support academic costs. This will be matched with GSK in-kind contributions, including access to a portfolio of currently available medicines, experimental compounds, screening facilities and the company’s drug discovery and development in-house expertise. While GSK will retain ownership of the intellectual property covering these medicines and compounds, joint project teams of GSK and academic researchers will be able to use these as investigational tools to help answer scientific questions about human disease – which in turn could provide starting points for the development of next generation treatments for patients.

The initiative aims to support up to ten experimental medicine projects over the five year period. The academic research teams that are awarded funding by the MRC will work alongside their industry colleagues at both GSK and university facilities, with a view to building a legacy of expertise in translational and experimental human research across academia and industry. It is anticipated that the network will grow beyond the first five academic partners.

Information and new discoveries will be readily communicated across the network, and beyond, in a spirit of open innovation. This will help enable breakthroughs in understanding to be applied across a spectrum of diseases, maximising the potential of the initiative to bring real benefits to patients.

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said “Networks of biomedical researchers from hospitals, industry and universities are key to unlocking the biomedical breakthroughs that are transforming our understanding of the mechanisms of disease and developing new diagnostics and treatments for patients.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive at the Medical Research Council, said: “Despite major progress made over the last 20 years in many disease areas, some hard-to-treat conditions still carry high morbidity and mortality.  Addressing these challenges successfully requires close, flexible, collaboration across a range of disciplines with complementary methodological expertise and disease understanding which is why initiatives such as this are so important to the MRC. We believe this innovative approach could be applied in other areas to combine the work of academia and industry.”

GSK’s president of pharmaceuticals R&D, Patrick Vallance, said: “At GSK, we believe that alongside the cutting-edge research our own scientists are leading, we also have much to learn from researchers outside our walls. We believe that by sharing our resources and research during the early stages of research we can stimulate innovation within the scientific community, strengthen our understanding of human disease and accelerate the development of new treatments for patients. We need to embrace opportunities to work together and share information about our successes and failures.

“The MRC’s EMINENT initiative is a great way for us to do precisely this, allowing us to work alongside scientists from five top UK universities to drive forward our collective understanding of inflammatory disease, and we’re confident this unique approach will make us better able to develop innovative new treatments in the future.”

An independent panel of experts will assess the applications submitted by EMINENT collaborators. Projects will be assessed against the same criteria as any other MRC-funded research, based on the quality of the science.   An oversight group, the Joint Steering Committee (JSC), reporting to the MRC, will ensure robust governance and alignment with MRC’s strategic priorities.

The collaboration will also be supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres at Cambridge, Newcastle, Imperial and UCL.

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