Archives for posts with tag: charity

JDRF logo

Earlier this month we revealed that our fundraising efforts at the annual BIA Gala Dinner raised more than £30,000 for our charity of the year, JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity. The money raised will go towards enabling future UK research into the disease. Here, Dr Clare McVicker, Director of Research Advocacy at JDRF, details some of the pioneering research currently being funded by the charity.

The BIA Gala Dinner was a fantastic event. The venue was spectacular and what an opportunity to network and meet lots of you. I was lucky enough to be there representing JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity – BIA’s charity partner for 2016.

Thank you so much for supporting us through this event – together you raised over £30,000! These funds will go towards supporting JDRF’s research programme. Our portfolio covers research to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes and its complications, but we don’t stop there. We’re making this life-changing research a reality for the people who need it. That’s why we ensure our impact is felt at every stage of the research pipeline, from funding world-class research, to lobbying for regulatory approval and reimbursement by health systems.

We are currently supporting over 450 projects in 18 countries worldwide, and since our founding in 1970, we have given over £1 billion to research. In the UK alone, we currently have £23 million committed to projects right across the country. The money you raised through the gala dinner will help us support this pioneering work.

Let me tell you about some of the flagship projects we’re working on.


Ultimately our aim is to find the cure for type 1 diabetes. One way to do this is to replace the damaged insulin producing beta cells with cells grown outside the body, and protect them from the immune attack with a physical barrier.

JDRF funded researchers have been hitting headlines recently by developing new cell sources for transplantation. For example Professor Doug Melton at Harvard, and Professor Daniel Anderson at MIT worked together to place a new cell line of glucose-responsive insulin-producing cells in an innovative alginate hydrogel. They recently announced that these protected cells could deliver long-term glycaemic control in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes. We’ve also invested significantly in a partnership with Californian biotech company Viacyte to develop an innovative combination product involving a pancreatic islet cell source and macro-encapsulation device, which is now in phase 1 clinical trials.

Technology is already a vital tool in managing type 1 diabetes. JDRF supports a consortium of academic institutions and companies, all working to develop “Artificial Pancreas” systems to closely mimic the glucose regulating function of a healthy pancreas using existing insulin pump and glucose sensing devices. JDRF’s decade long investment in this area has created a whole range of opportunities for this technology to be developed into commercial products that can help families affected by type 1. We are proud to be partnering with many companies looking to bring this transformative technology to market.

There are so many other things to talk about from our pioneering work on glucose responsive insulins, a completely novel concept in insulin delivery, to innovative approaches to immunotherapy which will combat the autoimmune attack at the heart of type 1, but I’m out of space! The £30,000 that you raised helps enables us to pursue these opportunities, and many more besides. Thank you again for joining us in the pursuit of a world without type 1 diabetes.

And remember, if you are working in type 1 diabetes – or would like to do so – please get in touch so we can talk some more!

ARUKAlzheimer’s Research UK has appointed three Chief Scientific Officers to drive its £30 million Drug Discovery Alliance, a unique drug discovery venture in dementia research.

Below, we speak to the Chief Scientific Officers of the three Drug Discovery Institutes that make up the Alliance; Dr John Skidmore (University of Cambridge), Dr John Davis (University of Oxford) and Prof Paul Whiting (University College London).

What is the aim of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance?

JS: The Drug Discovery Alliance will accelerate the discovery of novel, effective therapeutics for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. We’re looking to couple the deep disease knowledge of academia with our own in-house drug discovery expertise.

Our objective is to explore new biological targets – for each target we will aim to develop lead compounds suitable for proof-of-concept studies in cells, tissue and animal models. Over the next five years we aim to generate six such lead series, each of which will have the potential to deliver an experimental drug. But to do this we need to engage with the research community, to find targets previously unexplored for dementia research which we can then build drug discovery projects around.

What are you looking for in a target?

JD: Targets come in all shapes and sizes and we will aim to be open minded with regard to the rationale behind the target and the proposed approach to tackling the target. Ideally there will be some links to the human disease and some validation data using molecular knockdown techniques. Additional factors that we need to consider, but which are not always at the forefront of a researcher’s mind, are the tractability of the specific molecular target and the possible side-effects of a particular approach.

What degree of validation do you want to see in target proposals?

JS: We’re keen to engage in informal discussions at any stage about disease mechanisms or pathways that researchers are exploring, but we will prioritise targets that have a degree of target validation.

PW: Target validation is often a challenge. There can be a disconnect between the degree of validation carried out in academic labs, and the levels required by the pharmaceutical industry to ‘de-risk’ early-stage drug discovery projects. The beauty of the Drug Discovery Alliance is that we can work with teams with interesting targets, to robustly validate these approaches before embarking on further development within the Drug Discovery Alliance. Some questions we’d be seeking to answer are whether the target should be blocked or activated or are any knockdown studies complemented by small molecule or antibody approaches. One of the earliest challenges for our biology teams will be designing the right assays to probe the novel targets that come on board.

JD: Alongside our call for novel targets implicated in Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia, the University of Oxford houses a state-of-the-art screening facility, which forms part of the £8 million UK-National Phenotypic Screening Centre. Phenotypic screening is a powerful method for drug discovery because it offers the opportunity to go beyond a focus on single drug targets and broaden the search to pathways involved in disease progression. Together with its counterpart at the University of Dundee, the screening facility represents the most advanced in the UK.

JS: We want to have an open dialogue with the research community. Rather than putting up boundaries to halt the translation of promising targets, we will take a supportive approach, working with scientists to develop their ideas further.

How will the three Drug Discovery Institutes work together?

PW: While we will draw on individual strengths within our host institutions to drive innovation and progress, the three Institutes will keep an open dialogue to maximise potential for developing promising targets.

JS: Targets not incorporated into the portfolio of an individual Drug Discovery Institute could be considered by the other two Institutes and there is a strong culture of collaboration and support across the Alliance.

JD: Many researchers have been asking which Institute they should approach with their ideas. We anticipate that existing collaborations with our host institutions will drive much of the dialogue, but this is not a pre-requisite to partner with the Drug Discovery Alliance. We’re keen to hear from researchers across the dementia research community, not solely those working at Cambridge, Oxford and UCL. Proposals can also be sent to and will be reviewed by all three Chief Scientific Officers.

How will you partner with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector?

JD: Pharma and Biotech are important potential partners who we are hoping will continue some of the drug discovery programmes that we initiate. As a result, we are looking for a continuous conversation with Pharma/Biotech to highlight areas of interest, to form collaborations when appropriate to the execution of a project and to help us progress the projects as they become more advanced.


JDRF logo

We are delighted to announce that the BIA’s official charity of the year for 2016 will be JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity. The BIA will be supporting the charity to raise funds and will be working with the JDRF team to see how the two organisations can work together to promote the vital role that UK bioscience plays in solving unmet patient need. Here, Dr Clare McVicker, Director of Research Advocacy at JDRF, explains more about the charity and the opportunities our new partnership could bring in 2016 – for both JDRF and for BIA members.

I am delighted that JDRF has been chosen as BIA’s charity partner for 2016. I lead our Research Advocacy efforts in the UK, seeking and developing new partnerships to speed progress in type 1 research. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition affecting millions of people worldwide. It can only be treated by giving replacement insulin – an imprecise process that changes daily, with serious short and long term consequences of getting it wrong.

However, fundamental research is now showing us more and more opportunities to intervene in the progression of this life-long, life-threatening condition. The promise of a cure is finally becoming more tangible – and JDRF exists to ensure that promise is realised as soon as possible

I am proud to say that we support research along the full length of the development pipeline, from basic underpinning research, to further understand the pathophysiology of type 1 diabetes, to clinical trials.

But we don’t stop there. At JDRF, we work with regulators too, ensuring that they have the right evidence to assess new developments against meaningful outcome measures. And we also advocate for people with type 1 to be able to access new treatments by working with NICE and SIGN, ensuring their guidance reflects the impact of new developments on day to day life with type 1 diabetes, not just ‘the numbers game’ to which managing type 1 can sometimes be reduced.

I see this new partnership with BIA as an opportunity to accelerate the delivery of new treatments to patients with type 1 diabetes.  I know that it can sometimes be difficult for BIA members to gain a patient’s perspective on something under development – I can help you make those connections.

Although the walls are coming down, there are still some barriers preventing academics and industry from working together productively. Again I can help BIA members to make connections and overcome these barriers, helping you to share expertise, tools and resources and develop new collaborations.

As a funder with a sizeable annual budget for new research around the world, we can also be a powerful ally. I think JDRF is leading the charge for medical research charities because we have long embraced a role in proving concepts and de-risking early phase research in partnership with companies.  We also know that BIA members have expertise that we don’t – I want to work with you to understand how research projects that we have identified as promising science that needs support, could be made as commercially viable as possible. I hope we will be able to facilitate the development of innovative new start-ups or spin-outs with products to transform the lives of people with type 1 by creating syndicates of funders.

So while I hope being the BIA’s charity of the year raises lots of money that we can use to improve the lives of people with type 1, I also hope the partnership will catalyse new relationships that can smooth the path to a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Please call me to chat about how your expertise could be applied to type 1 diabetes. From diagnostic tools to innovative materials or knowledge of regulatory processes and access to compound libraries there are myriad ways for us to work together – let’s use 2016 to find out what they are!

2014 was an outstanding year for the global biotech industry. Capital fundraising records were broken in the US and Europe, resulting in the highest ever total of £33bn. Furthermore, the UK was responsible for a substantial portion of the year’s success, a fact that was highlighted at BIA’s recent UK Bioscience Forum. The AMRC’s Sam Clark attended the event, and here he recaps some of the big issues covered.

AMRC_UKBSF1Building the third global cluster

The day opened with the launch of the BIA/EY report entitled ‘Building the Third Cluster: State of the Nation 2015’. The report demonstrated that in 2014 the UK outpaced its EU neighbours in the Biotech industry. In this year alone the UK generated £1.2bn of biotech innovation capital. This figure represents a 143% increase on 2013, and means that the UK now raises almost a third (31%) of innovation capital generated across Europe. 2014 was such a prolific year for the UK biotech industry that it is now almost on a par with the top global biotech clusters, namely those in San Diego, San Francisco and New England. What is required for the UK to surpass the San Diego cluster, and become the world’s third largest biocluster? The discussion focused on the need to support and retain mid-sized companies, so that they can enter the public market in greater numbers.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP was keen to highlight future challenges to development in his keynote address, as well as sing the praises of 2014. Among the challenges he mentioned were the current structural deficit, the demands on public funding that will come from an ageing population, making sure that projects such as 100,000 Genomes will deliver a lasting legacy, and ensuring that we can manage the availability of data to the benefit of all.

The first plenary session ended with a panel discussion on how to build a strategic alliance to ensure that the UK becomes the 3rd global biocluster. The panel included Steve Harris, of Circassia Biopharmaceuticals, and Angus McQuilken, VP at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Centre (MLSC).  Mr McQuilken gave a brief overview of the MLSC, which acts as a hub linking different parts of the state’s pre-existing infrastructure to improve the innovation ecosystem. When asked how the UK could emulate the success of the MLSC, Mr McQuilken suggested that if you invest in building a strong basis for partnerships, industry and further investment will follow.

Focusing on patient benefit

AMRC_UKBSF2The meeting then broke into a series of parallel sessions which covered topics such as Big Data in public health, current events related to intellectual property, and assuring quality in diagnostic tests. AMRC’s Aisling Burnand hosted a breakout session entitled ‘10x more focused on patient benefit’, which explored collaborations between charities and industry, and how these partnerships can bring benefits to patients.

The panel for this session was composed of representatives from AMRC members who have managed successful partnerships with industry. Doug Brown from Alzheimer’s Society and Mike Johnson of MRC Technology discussed the Neurodegeneration Medicines Acceleration Programme, a collaboration which brings together a number of charities and medical research funders to assist neurodegenerative medicine research projects which have either stalled or been shelved. Anna Obolensky discussed the BHF’s new and innovative award system for translational research, and Ralph Holme was on hand to discuss the Translational Research Initiative in Hearing created by Action for Hearing Loss.

Key points within this session included the increasing public scrutiny that charities are under, how collaborations with industry can accelerate translational efforts, and how such collaborations can result in novel treatments which provide patient benefit.

Celebrating success and the technology of 2016

The concluding plenary session set out to look at the successes of various companies and what innovations are most likely to turn heads in 2016. The session began with a panel discussion in which various winners of Biomedical Catalyst funding discussed the difference securing the funding has made to their projects and businesses.

The day closed with a look at the future. Small, handheld genome sequencing kits which could be used at home were among the developments that the panel suggested would emerge in 2016. Machine learning and big data also took up a good portion of the discussion, highlighted for uses in both diagnosis and drug discovery.

In all, the day demonstrated that if the UK biotech industry is to build on the successes of 2014, we must ensure that communication and collaboration between funders, researchers and industry continue to grow, and that new biotech companies are supported as they are created, develop and mature.

This blog was originally posted by the AMRC – click here to access