LifeArc and the Medical Research Council (MRC), with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), today announce three major investments totalling £18m to create a national network of cutting-edge “Gene Therapy Innovation Hubs”.

The £18m funding will support the creation of three dedicated facilities to advance the clinical development of new genetic treatments, with potential to transform care for millions of patients including those with rare and life-threatening genetic diseases. Hubs will be at King’s College London, NHS Blood and Transplant in Bristol and the University of Sheffield.

The University of Sheffield Gene Therapy Innovation Manufacturing Centre (GTIMC)

The University of Sheffield Gene Therapy Innovation Manufacturing Centre

These Innovation Hubs will enable academic-led clinical trials of novel gene therapies to take place, helping the most innovative research to reach patients. Gene therapies offer huge potential as treatments for a wide range of conditions and the UK has a world-class genetics research base – however, to date, academics have found it difficult to get access to the clinical materials, facilities and expertise required to progress gene therapy research into clinical trials.

The Hubs will unlock development pathways for these new treatments by offering access to GMP (good manufacturing practice) facilities for clinical trial materials, alongside essential translational support and regulatory advice. The Hubs will operate as a coordinated network, sharing technical skills and resources to enable innovative gene therapy research.

Dr Melanie Lee, CEO of LifeArc, said: “Recent innovations in gene therapies hold enormous potential for treating conditions such as rare diseases, but often promising ideas – particularly in academia – are not making it through to patients. Through our collaboration, we aim to meet the need for researchers to have access to the essential facilities and translational advice to progress promising research.”

Professor Fiona Watt, MRC’s Executive Chair said: “Support for innovative advanced therapies has been a long-standing priority for MRC and so we are delighted to announce this unique partnership with LifeArc. The new network of Innovation Hubs for gene therapies will build on the UK’s great strengths in this area, providing targeted investment in vital infrastructure to accelerate academic research programmes down the path to patient benefit, supporting the delivery of a new wave of genetic medicines.”

The Innovation Hubs will manufacture commonly used vectors including both lentivirus and adeno-associated virus (AAV) that are needed for genetic therapy trials, while positioning the UK for significant bioprocessing innovation work with the potential to radically increase yields and reduce productivity barriers in future years. The network will also design and share commercially ready platforms, using common cell-lines, plasmids and reagents to reduce costs, facilitate simplified licensing agreements and streamline regulatory reviews. A key aim is to smooth the transition between small-scale supply for early clinical trials through to larger-scale manufacture for patient trials, and beyond.

Dr Lee Beniston, BBSRC’s Associate Director for Industry Partnerships & Collaborative R&D, noted: “Gene therapies have outstanding clinical potential, but their development is critically dependent on the manufacture of the underpinning viral vector delivery technology. Over a number of years, BBSRC has made significant investments to help support bioprocess research and development; we are therefore delighted to be investing in this network of Hubs which will harness the UK’s excellence in bioprocess innovation to tackle key challenges in viral vector manufacturing.”

The creation and ongoing operation of the Hub network will be overseen by a cross-network Coordination Committee to promote sharing of knowledge and capabilities, engage with the academic community and foster interactions with commercial organisations to facilitate the onward the development of new genetic medicines.


About the centres

The University of Sheffield Gene Therapy Innovation Manufacturing Centre (GTIMC)

Professor Mimoun Azzouz

Sheffield’s GTIMC, led by Professor Mimoun Azzouz, builds on a strong history of translational gene therapy research at the University of Sheffield and partners. The centre includes a new state-of-the-art modular GMP manufacturing facility, located at the University of Sheffield’s Innovation District, that will support gene therapy projects emerging from UK universities.

The facility will utilise highly efficient processes to generate clinical grade AAVs and provide all the necessary quality assurance, regulatory certification and governance. The facility will provide clinical grade material for human trials at Advanced Therapies Treatment Centres and NHS trusts within the GTIMC and the national network. The GTIMC will deliver translational and regulatory support alongside an extensive training and skills programme to enable upskilling and address shortage of skills in GMP manufacturing. Read more about GTMIC on

NHS Blood and Transplant Gene Therapy Hub

The NHSBT Gene Therapy Hub will be hosted within a new, state of the art, 1,000m2 facility for the production of gene therapies under GMP, funded jointly by NHSBT and the Department of Health and Social Care and under construction at the NHSBT Filton Blood Centre (Bristol).

Due to be operational by the end of 2021, the new Hub will support early phase academic-led gene therapy trials and facilitate the provision of cost-effective viral vectors and plasmid DNA to stimulate the UK’s gene therapy sector.

The Hub, led by Dr Jon Smythe and Dr Paul Lloyd-Evans, will provide viral vector manufacturing, training and support services for academic-led groups seeking Adeno Associated Viral (AAV), Lentiviral (LV) vectors and plasmid DNA at GMP and research-grade qualities. It will also support academic-led teams in the translation of their research to the clinic and work with the other Hubs to develop, optimise and deliver a comprehensive training package to generate a highly skilled workforce, serving both the academic and commercial gene therapy communities. For more on the NHSBT Gene Therapy Hub:

The King’s College London/Royal Free/UCL Gene Therapy Hub

Professor Robin Ali

The King’s College London/Royal Free/UCL Hub, led by Professor Robin Ali, will provide a comprehensive capability for clinical grade viral vector manufacturing. This will include both AAV and lentivirus production for early-phase trials, alongside substantial programmes in process innovation, knowledge transfer, and training to address critical skills shortages. In partnership with the network of Innovation Hubs, our vision is to ensure that the UK capitalises on its outstanding academic medical research to deliver novel gene therapies to patients, providing transformative treatments for currently intractable conditions, and generating a vibrant economic landscape. Find out more on

Background notes

Gene therapies have potential to deliver treatments for a wide range of conditions, including around 7000 rare diseases (the majority of which are caused by one faulty gene). Gene therapy aims to treat – or even cure – these conditions, by engineering another gene to replace, silence or manipulate the faulty one. The therapeutic gene is frequently introduced via a ‘viral vector’, a virus particle modified to remove all unwanted or harmful properties.

Media contacts

Janet Morgan
Head of Corporate Affairs
+44 (0)20 7391 2810

Surinder Maan
Communications Manager
+44 (0)20 7391 2754

Notes to editors

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.

Find out more about our work by following us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

BBSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation.