Six major projects to bring innovative pathology tests to patients for better treatment


Will receive £16m to develop new tests in a range of disease areas

The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have made a joint award of £16m to develop molecular pathology tests to help deliver stratified (or precision) medicine in a range of disease areas.

Stratified medicine is an approach which subdivides patients with a shared disease into groups based on their risk of the disease progressing or how they respond to treatment. Identification of these different groups can help predict the most effective and safe intervention for individual patients. In addition, by understanding the underlying mechanisms that cause these differences, researchers can develop new interventions for those groups whose needs are currently not well met.

Molecular pathology is a major tool in stratified medicine. Tiny samples of blood or tissue are taken from the patient – usually with minimal discomfort because of the small amount taken and the use of minimally-invasive methods of collection. The samples are then analysed for levels of large molecules (such as proteins and DNA). Combining these results with other information, such as imaging and clinical data, enables the precise subdivision of patients.

Last year, the MRC warned that, while UK investment in stratified medicine has reached nearly £200m in the last four years, the UK capacity for molecular pathology needed to be increased to capture the potential patient and economic benefits stratification offers.

This £16m investment will enhance our UK-wide capability to deliver 21st century diagnostics

To support molecular pathology, the MRC and EPSRC will assist six nodes led by the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham. Each node brings researchers, clinicians and industry together to develop molecular diagnostic tools, to enable stratification, in disease areas such as cancer, respiratory diseases, digestive disease, infections, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus.

These nodes are collaborating with 20 industrial partners, including leading diagnostic and instrumentation companies and innovative technology and data SMEs.

George Freeman, UK Minister for Life Sciences, said: 'Advances in medical genetics and the use of data are making it possible to design a new generation of stratified medicines which work more effectively, with fewer side effects, in more targeted groups of patients. In cancer this is leading to personally-tailored therapies. As an integrated healthcare system underpinned by our £1bn per annum National Institute for Health Research expenditure, the NHS is perfectly placed to pioneer this field.

'This £16m investment will enhance our UK-wide capability to deliver 21st century diagnostics and complement initiatives such as the Precision Medicine Catapult Centre to make sure that ground-breaking medicines and technologies are adopted by the NHS and delivered to patients as quickly as possible.'

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Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive at the MRC, added: 'These new tools are critical for selecting the right treatment for the right patient. Being able to precisely target a treatment means maximum benefit for the patient – they receive a treatment that works for them and with fewer unpleasant side-effects. But it also delivers economic benefit because money and time are not wasted on ineffective treatments.'