The Medical Research Council (MRC) and independent medical research charity LifeArc are making £16m available to establish a network of centres that will offer clinical grade viral vectors, and translational and regulatory guidance to support academic-led patient trials of new gene therapies.

Operating as centrally coordinated facilities, these “Gene Therapy Innovation Hubs” aim to address challenges faced by academics as they seek to progress novel gene therapy research into early stage clinical trials. These challenges include a shortage of viral vector production capacity and a complex and evolving translational pathway for gene therapies.

LifeArc and the MRC will create the network by providing UK-based research organisations with grants for up to 5 years. The grants are designed to support the costs associated with expanding or repurposing existing viral vector production centres. The selected centres, or hubs, will also have access to LifeArc’s translation advice and support. Collectively, the hubs will form a centrally coordinated network, designed to enable sharing of knowledge and capabilities across all hubs. The hubs will increase UK capacity for GMP viral vector production to support academic researchers looking to progress their gene therapy research from the lab into early stage clinical trials.

Dr Melanie Lee, CEO of LifeArc, commented: “Advanced therapies, like gene therapy, offer significant promise to many patients who currently have no treatment options. We hope that through this unique collaboration with the MRC, LifeArc can offer its funding and expertise in technology transfer and translational science to support the progression of promising gene therapies. Translation of advanced therapies will be a core focus of LifeArc’s future strategy for delivering significant new patient benefits.”

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the MRC, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with LifeArc on this exciting initiative. Continued investment in translational research and in advanced therapies remains a major priority for the MRC and, through this partnership, we aim to support clinical development of the most exciting gene therapy projects from the UK’s world-leading academic researchers. This investment will streamline and accelerate progress towards a new generation of genetic medicines for patients.”

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Notes to editors

About the Gene Therapy Innovation Hub grants

Grants will pay for, but are not limited to, key staff posts and infrastructure costs. Awards may be of a range of sizes, from smaller awards of £1-2m to repurpose or import additional platforms to existing facilities, to larger grants of £5-7m for new or expanded centre infrastructure. LifeArc and the MRC will not seek any financial return on these grants

Funding will be awarded to UK-based research organisations that can:

  • Provide academics with access to GMP grade viral vector production capability for early phase clinical trials
  • Support translation of gene therapy projects from the academic lab into early clinical trials
  • Coordinate innovative manufacturing research, drive generation of reproducible and shareable platforms and enable dissemination of knowledge – across a network of centres
  • Design and share commercially ready platforms, using common cell-lines, plasmids and reagents, facilitating the transition between small scale ‘academic’ supply for phase I/II trials through to larger-scale downstream supply

The full call specification can be found here.

About LifeArc

LifeArc is a self-funded medical research charity. Our mission is to advance translation of early science into health care treatments or diagnostics that can be taken through to full development and made available to patients. We have been doing this for more than 25 years and our work has resulted in a diagnostic for antibiotic resistance and four licensed medicines.

Our success allows us to explore new approaches to stimulate and fund translation. We have our own drug discovery and diagnostics development facilities, supported by experts in technology transfer and intellectual property who also provide services to other organisations. Our model is built on collaboration, and we partner with a broad range of groups including medical research charities, research organisations, industry and academic scientists. We are motivated by patient need and scientific opportunity.

Two funds help us to invest in external projects for the benefit of patients: our Philanthropic Fund provides grants to support medical research projects focused on the translation of rare disease research and our Seed Fund is aimed at start-up companies focused on developing new therapeutics and biological modalities.

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About the MRC

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-three MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed.

Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. The Medical Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation.