Fragile X treatment gets catalyst funding

Twelve exciting new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies are to receive a total of £18 million ($27.8 million) from a UK government research fund.

Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) is a joint programme run by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK, and is now on its eighth round. Funds have been awarded to a range of academic researchers and small-to-medium sized life science firms working on potentially groundbreaking projects.

Among the 12 is an ambitious project to target Fragile X syndrome, a single gene defect which is the most common cause of autism spectrum disorders. The project is being undertaken by Cambridge (UK) based firm Sentinel Oncology, which will receive an award of just over £943,000 to progress the research.

A number of large pharma companies have already failed in the field, however, with Novartis, Roche and Seaside Therapeutics all seeing their mGluR5 molecules disappoint in clinical trials.

The funding announcement doesn’t disclose the mechanism of Sentinel’s drug, but does say it will treat the underlying cause of the disease.

Among the academic-led projects to secure funding are a University College London phase I/IIa trial of humanised monoclonal antibody to treat macular degeneration, which secured the biggest award, £5.5 million funding.

University of Sussex researchers receive £1.7 million to ‘retool’ valium to remove its sedation effects to help in anxiety disorders, while University of Oxford work with Mount Sinai in New York on creating the ‘ultimate universal flu vaccine’ also benefits.

Another potentially groundbreaking project is King’s College London and NIHR Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre research aimed at curing Crohn’s disease, which gets a £2.9 million award. The researchers are the first in the world to trial a personalised treatment using T cell therapy in patients, with the hope that, if successful, the research could help other debilitating autoimmune disorders.

A number of other small-to-medium sized (SME) life science firms spanning biologic medicines, medical imaging and diagnostics will also gain funding via Innovate UK, the government agency which supports innovative businesses.

Cambridge-based Mission Therapeutics has been awarded £1.89 million to develop a first-in-class treatment small molecule to treat soft tissue sarcomas and other cancers.

Brainomix is developing medical imaging software to automate the measurement of stroke damage, Cytosystems is working on a urine test for bladder cancer and Ohmedics is developing a device to monitor for lung infections caused by bacteria and funghi.

The MRC’s chief executive, Professor Sir John Savill, said: “This round of awards is a further demonstration of the exceptional science coming out of the vibrant academic and industrial research base of the UK. The continued success of the MRC/IUK Biomedical Catalyst illustrates the value of dedicated support to ensure that this country can rapidly exploit world-leading science for the benefit of patients and the UK economy.”

The Biomedical Catalyst is part of the vision of Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman, who wants to help the UK sector become a world beater. Freeman is also pushing for reform of the country’s regulatory pathways, championing the ongoing Accelerated Access Review.

Read the Biomedical Catalyst release here.

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