Scottish healthcare technology collaboration wins competition to support personalised treatment of cancer

June 13, 2011

A Scottish consortium of two NHS Boards, two Universities and a leading Scottish health informatics company has been awarded a prestigious funding injection from the Technology Strategy Board in what the Scottish Government has called a turning point in the development of personalised medicine for cancer in the UK. The project aims to help accelerate the vision of tailoring therapy to patients by linking the molecular signature of different cancers to clinical characteristics, so that the right medicine can be selected for the right patients at the right dose, to ensure the best chance of response to treatment with reduced risk of side effects.

The consortium won substantial funding from the Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform (SMIP), an initiative managed by the Technology Strategy Board, which is overseeing an investment of over £50 million of government funding in innovative research and development.

Dundee and Edinburgh-based Aridhia Informatics is the lead technology partner in the DECIPHER project, which will see the company working in partnership with NHS Lothian, the University of Edinburgh, NHS Tayside and the University of Dundee to develop a unique electronic data handling system that combines tumour profiling and data capture to improve cancer care, a project which addresses a Technology Strategy Board funded competition designed to support research and development into personalised medicine.

The Scottish Government have given the DECIPHER project their full backing, highlighting it as a major milestone in the advance of personalised medicine, and an accolade for Scotland’s life sciences sector.

Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy Nicola Sturgeon said: “Cancer is a top priority for the Scottish Government and using information in real time to support diagnosis and guide treatment is an important focus for us. This exciting programme will provide vital new information at the time of a cancer diagnosis and during and after treatment. This development is completely consistent with the Quality Strategy, which puts the patient at the centre of healthcare. Person-centred care is about responding to the needs of the individual and that is at the heart of this development. This is a great example of what we can achieve when life sciences, the academic sector and the NHS in Scotland join forces.”

Speaking as the investment was announced, Professor Alistair Thompson, Professor of Surgery at the University of Dundee and a leading UK breast surgeon, said “The funding will support the consortium’s unique combination of clinical expertise, academic excellence and industrial experience in high performance computing, and enable it to deliver unique insights into the development of stratified treatments, catalysing the commercial application of new technologies for diagnosing and treating cancer.”

The project was initiated by a development grant between the University of Dundee and Aridhia Informatics, funded by Cancer Research UK in 2010. The establishment of CR-UK Cancer Centres in Dundee and Edinburgh was instrumental in initiating this exciting collaboration for the sake of cancer patients.

Dr David Sibbald, Chairman of Aridhia Informatics said “We welcome the opportunity to support the development of targeted treatments for cancer patients, to strengthen links between internationally renowned research institutes and industry, and to make a positive contribution to the UK economy by delivering the economic advantages associated with world leading, unique research. The Technology Strategy Board has also provided an opportunity to enhance Scotland’s reputation as an important and innovative location for life sciences, and Aridhia is proud to be part of that.”

Professor David Cameron from the University of Edinburgh and lead clinician of NHS Lothian’s Edinburgh Cancer Centre said: “This is a great example of a collaborative effort between the NHS, Universities and the Scottish Commercial Sector delivering real value for Scotland, and ultimately for people with cancer in Scotland.”

Scott Johnstone, director of the Scottish Life Sciences Association, hailed the win as another vote of confidence in Scotland’s world-leading life sciences sector, which “recognises the benefit of industry working alongside the NHS to improve patient outcomes.”

Johnstone added, “It’s great to see Aridhia, one of our member companies, win this prestigious recognition of their world class work in bioinformatics which will bring significant benefit to the economy, and assist local companies working in cancer drug development”.

Dr Sally Burtles, director of centres at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re delighted to see the early pilot work funded by Cancer Research UK’s Dundee Centre now receiving further investment. Personalised medicine is such an important area of research in cancer and we look forward to seeing the results of this project and the impact it will have on cancer patients in the future.”

The DECIPHER project, set to commence in September, will address the retrieval, integration and analysis of breast, lung, prostate, colorectal, melanoma, and ovarian cancer data sources, for use by cancer clinicians and researchers in academia and industry to compare genetic variations with treatment effectiveness in the real world, highlighting opportunities to match therapies to patient populations, and thus paving the way towards a more personalised approach to cancer treatment.

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