Roche and UK’s NIHR launch rare disease alliance

The UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is to work with Roche to investigate the use of an existing arthritis drug in a rare cardiovascular condition.

The government-funded NIHR has an annual budget of over £1 billion, and its new collaboration with Roche pushes the boundaries of its work with pharma companies in drug research.

The two-year clinical trial will investigate Roche’s Actemra (tocilizumab) for use in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).

The alliance is part of the NIHR’s £20 million Rare Diseases Research Collaboration.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP is helping to push for closer working between UK researchers, the NHS and the pharma industry.

“Through the NIHR’s £20 million Rare Diseases Research Collaboration, we are bringing together the country’s leading health researchers in hospitals, universities and companies like Roche to help them get access to world-leading research infrastructure in the NHS and accelerate the access for NHS patients to new treatments.”

The study is led by Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, which specialises in heart and lung conditions, and around 50 patients are expected to take part.

The NIHR’s Rare Disease Collaboration was set up in 2013 and is supported by a £20 million fund to bring together experts in rare disease research.

Dr Madhi Farhan, Roche’s Head of the Office of I2O Innovation, said: “Working with NOCRI [NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure] and the NIHR has been invaluable to ensure rapid connections and fruitful partnership with the UK’s leading experts in translational research of PAH.

“Being able to look at the in-depth science of how one of our current treatments could be applied to a real unmet medical need is what attracted us to carry out this work in the UK. We hope this research will soon lead to benefit for patients with this debilitating disease.”

PAH is, in fact, a highly lucrative market, with Actelion (which markets Tracleer and Uptravi), Gilead (Letairis) and Boehringer Ingelheim (Adempas) already present in a multi-billion dollar therapy area. Roche (via Genentech) co-markets Tracleer in the US with Actelion. If successful, the NIHR could eventually help pave the way for Actemra’s approval for the condition.

The new alliance is part of the UK government’s promotion of medical research collaboration. Despite pursuing spending cuts across all its departments, in November it promised to maintain the science budget in real terms. Pharma industry body the ABPI welcomed the commitment, but said that adding new projects to this budget, such as the ‘global challenges fund’, could mean existing projects are hit.

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