How Scotland is leading in precision medicine
Life Sciences The precision medicine revolution is happening now, and Scotland's triple-helix approach could help usher it in.
Precision medicine is capable of spurring a revolution in healthcare, bringing the prospects of earlier diagnosis, more effective treatment, cost savings and better patient outcomes. The University Of Glasgow is leading the way in this new medical revolution, with collaboration at the heart of its success says Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Head of the University’s College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences.
What is precision medicine?
“Precision medicine, also called stratified or personalised medicine, involves combining the usual patient examinations and data, with information derived from techniques such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and new imaging modalities, so a patient's condition can be 'stratified',” says Dominiczak.
The new techniques mean that diseases that were previously thought to be just one blanket condition, such as breast and pancreatic cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis, can be stratified into various sub-types, all slightly different and requiring different treatments.
“This ability to sub-stratify the patient's condition allows for a more accurate and earlier diagnosis, and enables clinicians to select the most effective treatment. The goal is to deliver the right treatment for the right patient at the right time,” says Dominiczak.
Why is collaboration vital?
While precision medicine can enable better, earlier diagnosis and treatment, a large measure of collaboration is required for it to be successfully implemented.
“We are using a ‘triple-helix’ approach to precision medicine, which involves close collaboration among academic researchers, the NHS and industry here in Glasgow,” says Dominiczak, explaining that the three parties are essential to making precision medicine work.
“First, it requires the molecular technologies developed by academic researchers. Then this is combined with the high levels of strong patient data held electronically by the NHS, safely managed and anonymised where necessary,” she says. Here, the NHS Scotland Community Health Index (CHI) database is very valuable, she says, as it offers access to patient demographics and clinical information on aspects of healthcare screening and surveillance. It is a key plank of the introduction of electronic health records and other information and communication technologies in Scotland. “This puts Scotland in a prime place to utilise the data and get the most out of research and development,” she says.
The third part of the triple helix is industry. “We need industry in the form of large and small companies, to transfer new discoveries into treatments that benefit patients. In the process this will also bring benefits to the economy and increase the number of jobs,” says Dominiczak.
“This is a medical revolution that will happen – in fact it is happening now. Scotland and the UK have the opportunity to lead it, but it will require collaboration with industry.”
What is happening now?
Glasgow is home to a new biomedical innovation cluster called the Clinical Innovation Zone, funded by the Scottish and UK governments, within the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) campus–the largest acute medical facility in Western Europe.
“The university works in collaboration with industry partners who have co-located here, including companies that have moved in from overseas. They are attracted by the possibility of developing precision medicine where they are close to researchers, can interact with clinicians, and implement their products in the NHS,” says Dominiczak. The zone also includes companies that are spin-outs from the university, and also an informatics company that links Scottish health data.
“The University Of Glasgow, working with NHS and industry, has created a research and development cluster, as advocated in the government’s recently-announced Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.”
The zone also encompasses the university’s Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE), which includes an ultra-high resolution 7 Tesla MRI scanner – the first of its kind to be fully-integrated within a clinical site in the UK.
“The MRI scanner, coupled with our on-site clinical expertise, means we can scan patients with conditions such as stroke and cardiovascular disease, and carry out brain imaging at a much higher resolution. This enables us to add precision imaging to stratification,” Dominiczak explains.
Ahead of the game
Scotland is ahead of the game when it comes to creating life sciences innovation clusters, says Dominiczak. “We have been creating a multidisciplinary ecosystem for precision medicine here for the last four years – well ahead of the publication of the government's Life Sciences Industrial Strategy paper. We hope our experience will enable us to offer help in developing that strategy, so the whole UK benefits.”
In April, the university will deliver the results of the first UK government-commissioned Science and Innovation Audit on precision medicine innovation in Scotland. The audit will map Scotland’s research, innovation and infrastructure strengths in precision medicine to help identify the opportunities for inward investment and regional growth.
“We think Scotland is in a particularly strong position because of its size, the wealth of its NHS data and the high level of willingness among Scots to participate in clinical trials. A high percentage of Scots are also happy to donate surplus tissue and blood samples for research,” Dominiczak says.