Woman inhaling from a mask nebulizer

Cambridge researchers will play key roles in two new centres dedicated to developing improved tests, treatments and potentially cures for thousands of people living with rare medical conditions.

The new LifeArc centre unites scientific and clinical strengths from across the UK

Patrick Chinnery

The virtual centres, supported by the charity LifeArc, will focus on areas where there are significant unmet needs. They will tackle barriers that ordinarily prevent new tests and treatments reaching patients with rare diseases and speed up the delivery of rare disease treatment trials.

The centres will bring together leading scientists and rare disease clinical specialists from across the UK for the first time, encouraging new collaborations across different research disciplines and providing improved access to facilities and training.

LifeArc Centre for Rare Mitochondrial Diseases

Professor Patrick Chinnery will lead the LifeArc Centre for Rare Mitochondrial Diseases, a national partnership with the Lily Foundation and Muscular Dystrophy UK, together with key partners at UCL, Newcastle University and three other centres (Oxford, Birmingham and Manchester).

Mitochondrial diseases are genetic disorders affecting 1 in 5,000 people. They often cause progressive damage to the brain, eyes, muscles, heart and liver, leading to severe disability and a shorter life. There is currently have no cure for most conditions, however, new opportunities to treat mitochondrial diseases have been identified in the last five years, meaning that it’s a critical time for research development. The £7.5M centre will establish a national platform that will connect patient groups, knowledge and infrastructure in order to accelerate new treatments getting to clinical trial.

Professor Chinnery said: “The new LifeArc centre unites scientific and clinical strengths from across the UK. For the first time we will form a single team, focussed on developing new treatments for mitochondrial diseases which currently have no cure.”

Adam Harraway has Mitochondrial Disease and says he lives in constant fear of what might go wrong next with his condition. “With rare diseases such as these, it can feel like the questions always outweigh the answers. The news of this investment from LifeArc fills me with hope for the future. To know that there are so many wonderful people and organisations working towards treatments and cures makes me feel seen and heard. It gives a voice to people who often have to suffer in silence, and I'm excited to see how this project can help Mito patients in the future."

LifeArc Centre for Rare Respiratory Diseases

Professor Stefan Marciniak will co-lead the LifeArc Centre for Rare Respiratory Diseases, a UK wide collaborative centre co-created in partnership with patients and charities. This Centre is a partnership between Universities and NHS Trusts across the UK, co-led by Edinburgh with Nottingham, Dundee, Cambridge, Southampton, University College London and supported by six other centres (Belfast, Cardiff, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester and Royal Brompton).

For the first time ever, it will provide a single ‘go to’ centre that will connect children and adults with rare respiratory disease with clinical experts, researchers, investors and industry leaders across the UK. The £9.4M centre will create a UK-wide biobank of patient samples and models of disease that will allow researchers to advance pioneering therapies and engage with industry and regulatory partners to develop innovative human clinical studies.

Professor Marciniak said: “There are many rare lung diseases, and together those affected constitute a larger underserved group of patients. The National Translational Centre for Rare Respiratory Diseases brings together expertise from across the UK to find effective treatments and train the next generation of rare disease researchers.”

Former BBC News journalist and presenter, Philippa Thomas, has the rare incurable lung disease, Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). Her condition has stabilised but for many people, the disease can be severely life-limiting. Philippa said: “There is so little research funding for rare respiratory diseases, that getting treatment - let alone an accurate diagnosis - really does feel like a lottery. It is also terrifying being diagnosed with something your GP will never have heard of.”

Globally, there are more than 300 million people living with rare diseases. However, rare disease research can be fragmented. Researchers can lack access to specialist facilities, as well as advice on regulation, trial designs, preclinical regulatory requirements, and translational project management, which are vital in getting new innovations to patients.

Dr Catriona Crombie, Head of Rare Disease at LifeArc, says: “We’re extremely proud to be launching four new LifeArc Translational Centres for Rare Diseases. Each centre has been awarded funding because it holds real promise for delivering change for people living with rare diseases. These centres also have the potential to create a blueprint for accelerating improvements across other disease areas, including common diseases.”

Adapted from a press release from LifeArc

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