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8 June, 2011 - 08:51 By Tony Quested

NHS could drive global personalised medicines revolution, says Horizon

Horizon CEO, Chris Torrance

Personalised medicines pioneer Horizon Discovery in Cambridge wants an alliance with the NHS to create a world-leading drug discovery cluster in the UK - ensuring medicines of the future are matched to individuals’ genetic make-up.

 

Horizon says there is a fabulous opportunity for the UK to become a biomarker-driven, patient-centred, research and drug discovery cluster championing stratified medicine.

CEO Chris Torrance said the UK through the NHS was “uniquely placed” to drive the global initiative – helping Big Pharma revolutionise drug delivery. It could have the bonus benefit of turning the UK into an innovation-led growth economy, he said.

Horizon is already working with world-leading pharmaceutical companies to ditch the ‘one drug for all’ mentality and adopt a stratified approach. This involves managing a group of patients with shared biological characteristics and using molecular diagnostic testing to identify the most effective treatment.

While cancer remains the priority target, the stratified approach will be rolled out to other disease areas.

Now it’s time for the UK to power the new drug delivery paradigm, Torrance says.

Torrance, who is also chief scientific officer for fast-growing Horizon, says there is an urgent need globally to overhaul the clinical trials process “to more ethically and effectively focus on the right patients – to enable quicker approvals – and invest in companion diagnostics to accurately determine what genes go wrong in each patient’s tumour.”

In an exclusive interview, he told Business Weekly: “It is clear that the drug discovery process will need to become far more efficient to serve an increasingly ‘personalised’ medicine world – where many more targeted agents will need to be developed and tailored in rational combinations to each patient in order to achieve long-term remissions from disease

“Horizon has seen these issues for several years and has been using its proprietary genome editing platform called ‘Genesis’ to create large panels of in vitro human disease models, which for the first time accurately recapitulate the genetics of the patients we are trying to treat in the laboratory.

“Using these novel ‘patients-in-a-test-tube’, Horizon has been a helping a rapidly expanding list of industry and academic partners to accelerate all aspects of their drug and diagnostic R & D and would next like to turn to the NHS to explore how the UK can become a comprehensive site for biomarker-driven, patient-centred, research and drug discovery.

“The UK is uniquely placed to support pharma in this pursuit and ultimately figure out a more cost-effective and ethical way of administering what will become a deluge of new and expensive treatments in the near term.

“In my view, as well as being highly scientifically important, ‘personalised medicine’ could also represent a transformational and central part of a future innovation-led growth economy in the UK.”

Business Weekly has been banging the drum for a stratified approach for years. Now the influential Wall Street Journal has highlighted the opportunity for a more focused approach to medicine delivery. The WSJ said major pharmaceutical companies in the States and elsewhere had already signalled a change of approach.

Chris Torrance said: “The Wall Street Journal article highlights how a better understanding of the human genome and the underlying genetic causes of cancer are starting to translate into new and better ‘targeted’ treatments for patients. This approach will likely bring significant benefits to tackling other complex diseases, too.”

• Photograph shows: Horizon CEO, Chris Torrance

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