New molecular pathology network for precision medicine

30 July 2015

The Medical Research Council (MRC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have announced the creation of six new major centres for diagnostic test development.

These nodes, intended to support a national network of molecular pathology services, will be based within universities:

  • Edinburgh-St Andrews Consortium will develop cutting-edge genomic and epigenomic diagnostics for acutely ill children and ‘liquid biopsies’ for non-invasive cancer monitoring and management
  • Glasgow Molecular Pathology Node will integrate pathology, genomics and informatics, working alongside the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre
  • East Midlands Breathomics Pathology Node will develop breath analysis tests that could help rapid diagnosis and treatment choices for conditions including cancers and respiratory infections and diseases
  • Manchester Molecular Pathology Innovation Centre will develop biomarker based molecular pathology tests for inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis
  • Newcastle Proximity Laboratory will focus on new tests for rare and chronic diseases
  • Nottingham Molecular Pathology Node will bring together informatics, computational modelling and molecular pathology to find new biomarkers for digestive, respiratory and liver diseases

President of The Royal College of Pathologists Dr Suzy Lishman explained: “Molecular pathology will revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat disease, with patients receiving treatment tailored to their particular condition…Pathology has always been central to diagnosis but plays an even more vital role in stratified medicine”. Blood or tissue samples are analysed for protein and DNA biomarkers to help precisely classify disease and in some cases determine the best treatments to use against it,

In 2014 the government-funded MRC r eleased a Molecular Pathology Review, in which they set out requirements for UK molecular pathology service development to meet the increasing demand for diagnostic testing, in particular associated with stratified or personalised medicine. Notably, this identified three areas for action: creating a suitable diagnostic development pathway, collocating academic and commercial research with pathology services to underpin test development, and investing in people and skills to lead research and analysis.

The MRC went on to invite applications to create molecular pathology ‘nodes’ - multidisciplinary centres for innovation in diagnostic test discovery and development – as part of an enlarged national network of services. The new academic nodes are working with industrial partners, and alongside complementary initiatives such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Diagnostic Evidence Centres and Innovate UK’s Precision Medicine Catapult.

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said that the NHS was “perfectly placed” to pioneer precision medicine, adding:  “This £16 million investment will enhance our UK-wide capability to deliver 21st Century diagnostics and complement initiatives such as the Precision Medicine Catapult Centre to make sure that ground-breaking medicines and technologies are adopted by the NHS and delivered to patients as quickly as possible”.