The ongoing investigation into healthy ageing by the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee has heard that targeting the diseases of ageing is the greatest future market and impact opportunity for the global medicines industry.
Targeting the disease clusters of ageing through cross-region ‘team science’ will stimulate global industry to tackle the multimorbidity challenge in the UK. With concerted national action now, the science we already have can be translated into better ageing and a better future for our bio-economy.
Multiple diseases are caused by similar underlying biology, but for historical reasons are recognised and treated differently by health providers and industry. As we age, these ‘disease clusters’, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression, cause us to be ever more medicated; initially, to treat a range of ‘single’ diseases, and then the side effects of our treatments. This approach is outdated, expensive and unscalable.
If we are to age healthily, we must create a smaller set of medicines, targeted at the biological basis of tissue ageing. We can do this by working together, rather than using today’s jar of disease specific medicines designed – but rarely used – in isolation. Why has industry not focussed on this with vigour?
It is argued that ageing is not a recognised condition for which reimbursement or prescribing is valid; regulatory authorities ask for single disease indications and, clinical trials in ageing take years and have weak endpoints. This is no longer the case.
The UK has a global opportunity to pioneer future medicines for age related disease clusters. Using focussed national networks, it can harness regional innovation agencies across academia, Catapults, regulators and clinicians. They can work alongside its wealth of private bio-sector service providers to discover drugs that target the causes of ageing and prove their benefit in UK patients. This syndicated ‘team science’ is now possible and is advancing, with the power to radically change the way we approach medicines discovery. The Innovative Therapeutics for Ageing Consortium (iTAC) are regional leaders in public sector innovation and clinical study who have developed a ‘pharma-class’ drug discovery process to prove this approach works.
They are showing that industry quality R&D can be planned and executed across a portfolio of diseases and can use a national network of private UK skills and services. They can also leverage existing public sector investments in UK Biobank, Genomics England and NHS clinical research. As these resources are trained on the core biology of ageing and can access the funding they need, industry will be attracted to become co-developers and licensees of their products.
More importantly, they will take these medicines to market, for the benefit of us all. Multimorbidity is already a national challenge.
Medicines R&D takes 10 years or more, so work must start now on an arsenal of smarter medicines to tackle it head on. The UK can act now to ensure global industry sees the UK as the place that is already addressing these challenges, with the world-class assets they need, and the spill-over benefits to our bioeconomy.
To learn more about the Medicines Discovery Catapult’s work, click HERE.