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Precision Medicine Catapult comes to Cambridge?


Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation agency, is creating a new Catapult for Precision Medicine and it’s looking for a home.  On Friday (29 January 2015) the Catapult Set-up Team came to Cambridge to see if we could be the optimum location.  Chris Ball, Team Leader, presented their vision and expectations at a meeting held at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus on the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site. 


So what is ‘precision medicine’?  The Catapult’s website defines it as using:


“diagnostic tests to select the most appropriate treatment for individual patients – this will improve care to patients by helping to deliver:


  • the right drug first time
  • earlier screening and treatment
  • smarter monitoring and adjustment of treatments”


The website also states that ‘precision medicine’ is “already worth Ј14 billion in annual sales of new therapies and diagnostic tests worldwide, and is forecast to reach Ј50 to 60 billion by 2020”.  With figures like these you can see why the UK Government wants our life science industry to get engaged, hence the Precision Medicine Catapult.  The Catapult will provide a platform of expertise to support new companies and attract investment from large life science companies and, hopefully, this should help to speed up the commercialisation process.


AstraZeneca is moving its headquarters to Cambridge because they want to tap into the amazing science and innovation which is happening here – quite an endorsement!  But is Cambridge becoming too successful? 


We have a lot to offer to the Precision Medicine Catapult: the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, a leader in the Human Genome project; ready access to the NHS via Addenbrooke’s Hospital, a university teaching hospital with a worldwide reputation; the University itself which has produced 90 Nobel prize winners since 1904 (including 29 in Physics, 26 in Medicine and 21 in Chemistry) and this is just the start!


If the Catapult wants to affiliate itself with the success of Cambridge, to access what is already here and more importantly what is yet to come, then this is definitely the place to be.  If, however, they want to give other parts of the country the chance to grow, develop and add to their local economy then Cambridge won’t be top of the list.


Whatever happens, it is important to remember that the Precision Medicine Catapult is for the United Kingdom and therefore, wherever it is based it will still be possible to part of its network.  As Chris Ball said the UK is “inventing the future and giving it away” but this Catapult should reverse this trend.  So wherever this Catapult is located we will able to “work together with a United Kingdom”.


This Catapult is only the beginning of the story for precision medicine.  The life science industry has always been divided i.e. pharmaceuticals vs. MedTech.  Precision Medicine, and therefore this Catapult, will be laying down the gauntlet to challenge the sector not only to develop and commercialise both therapies and tests simultaneously but also to target ever smaller markets. 


In the past, big pharma have been accused of not being interested in diagnostics.  Why?  Because why would you want to partner with a diagnostic company or develop your own diagnostic which then means you sell less of your therapeutic drug.  Commercially where’s the sense in that?  The scatter gun approach to providing treatment is financially much more lucrative.  But attitudes are changing.  Companies now want to be known and seen as ethical or social enterprises where the focus is on the health and welfare of people and not on maximising profits for the benefit of their shareholders.  With this change in attitude and governments emphasising the need for preventative, targeted medicine, the future is looking good for the MedTech sector and in particular, for diagnostics. 


Chris Ball is spot on when he said that the UK is “inventing the future and giving it away”.  The UK is excellent at research but when it comes to development and commercialisation we lag behind.  As a regulatory consultancy we are an integral part of that development and commercialisation and we believe passionately in the need to develop a regulatory strategy early in a product’s development.  Too often the regulatory side is ignored and yet, in many cases, it can be a ‘deal breaker’.  If you get your regulatory strategy sorted early on, your journey to the market will be quicker, smoother and may be it can even be enjoyable!


So back to the Precision Medicine Catapult: a decision on its location is to be made early in March and the current plan is to open for business in April.  Personally, I would love the Catapult to be in Cambridge, after all I live and work here!  At the end of the day, however, to have a UK based Precision Medicine Catapult (wherever it is) will be fantastic and I’m sure many will benefit from its support.  Oh and if you look over the water to the US, you’ll see that President Obama has just unveiled the US Precision Medicine Initiative.  It’s time for the UK to get its skates on!


Author: Greer Deal, Director of Global Regulatory Services