Finding new ways to improve human health
By rmhzdal, on 30 January 2019
As a university we endeavour to be a force for public good and have a positive impact on people, lives and communities.
The growing burden of disease in an increasingly ageing population is putting intense pressure on health and care services. We must strive to use health life sciences to change the way we think about health and disease and how best to manage them. Through ‘translation’ we aim to transform scientific discoveries arising from laboratory, clinical or population studies into new clinical tools and applications that improve human health.
Increases in interdisciplinary research, NHS and industry collaboration, and the adoption of innovative treatments and technologies will all be key components of successfully applying biology and technology to health improvement and advancing the development of new approaches to disease.
UCL’s strength in life and medical sciences is driven via the School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS). However, the scale and scope of our work in health extends to many other non-biomedical disciplines: spatial sciences, engineering, laws, mathematics, pedagogy, and physical sciences, as well as arts, humanities and social and historical sciences. These combine to address structural, environmental, and cultural determinants of health, and deliver health and healthcare innovation.
NHS and industry collaboration
We work closely with our NHS partners (University College Hospital, Royal Free Hospital, Whittington Hospital, Eastman Dental Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Moorfields Eye Hospital, the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital) to redefine what can be achieved through academic and clinical partnership.
These partnerships have led to the development of exciting joint initiatives, success with joint research and capital bids, and leveraging of philanthropic funding (e.g. Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, MRC UK Dementia Research Institute, and Oriel).
Partnership working, most explicitly articulated through our three UCL NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), helps us to translate advances in biomedical research into real benefits for patients. The relationships with the hospitals also facilitates investigators actively involving patients and the public in their research. This public engagement in research can lead to treatments that better meet the needs of users and the public, and research outcomes that are more likely to be put into practice.
A key mission of the BRCs has been to develop a culture of enterprise and facilitate translation of discovery science at UCL into patient care. The partnership is critical to realising the value of discovery science, a value that grows exponentially following successful early phase clinical translation. The BRCs have invested in the Translational Research Office (TRO) which has been fundamental in bringing together the necessary expertise in design, and research management and governance of early phase trials, as well as technology transfer expertise in various disciplines. The biomedical portfolio supported by the TRO spans a total of 72 projects with a cumulative value at the end of the academic year 17/18 of >£114m, growing from £90m in 2016/17.
The group are particularly successful with helping PIs secure funding from the MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme, Wellcome innovation schemes, NIHR i4i and LifeArc as well as providing a link through UCLB to the UCL Technology Fund and the Apollo Fund. For example, the UCL Technology Fund has recently invested £1m in a School of Pharmacy project to treat pancreatic cancer.
In December last year, Eisai renewed for a further 5 years our strategic alliance in neurodegeneration drug discovery as well as continuing to support the Leonard Wolfson studentship program. This is a great example of how working in partnership can accelerate translation, shortening the development timelines by many months, with the alliance recently moving their first drug candidate into the clinic.
Other Pharma relationships include Ono Pharmaceuticals (early translational projects with multiple PIs), CellMedica (novel T Cell receptor technology with Hans Stauss and Emma Morris), Grail Therapeutics (early detection of lung cancer with Sam Janes) and Astra Zeneca (access to their compound library three times/year through Richard Angel, TRO Drug Discovery Group).
Our commitment to partnership is exemplified by analysis performed over a 6 year period (2010-2016) which demonstrated that on average 30% of PIs across SLMS were working in partnership with industry.
Innovative treatments and technologies
We have recently established six Therapeutic Innovation Networks (TINs) to accelerate the development of novel therapeutics. The scheme was piloted in 2015, with the establishment of the Cell, Gene and Regenerative Therapies TIN.
UCL, working with UCLB to create spinouts and partnerships, is a world leader in the clinical translation of cell, gene and regenerative therapies. The strength and depth of activity has resulted in a number of high-profile Pharma collaborations and spin-out companies including: Orchard £392M, Autolus £251M, Freeline £123M, Miera £77M, and Achilies £13m.
UCL has a growing CAR T-cell programme based at the UCL Cancer Institute and Great Ormond Street Hospital. There are currently ten phase I/IIa clinical studies of experimental CAR T-cell approaches open at UCL affiliated hospitals which stem directly from this programme (the largest CAR T program in the UK). As an example of pull through from discovery science to clinical application for patient benefit, NHS England announced last year that children and young people in England with B cell leukaemia would be able to benefit from Europe’s first full access deal on CAR-T therapy.
A growing area of partnership with our hospitals, BRCs and industry spanning the whole of the academic base across UCL is in the area of “big data”. UCLH’s partnership with the Alan Turing Institute aims to use the power of data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to support clinical decision making and make services safer, quicker and more efficient. The DRIVE – Digital Research, Informatics and Virtual Environments unit being opened at Great Ormond Street Hospital will create a unique informatics hub to harness the power of the latest technologies to revolutionise clinical practice and improve patient outcomes. Meanwhile, pioneering research from Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology working with DeepMind Health has given a demonstration of the potential impact AI could have for patients; an AI system that recommended the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy, matching world-leading eye experts.
Through this commitment to interdisciplinary research, NHS and industry collaboration, and the adoption of innovative treatments and technologies, UCL is well positioned to develop further novel approaches to all types of disease and to genuinely and fundamentally improve people’s everyday life.