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MRC partners with academia to launch imaging centre for drug research

Imanova will provide platform for pharma companies to study drugs in the human body to speed up development process

Imanova - David Willetts

A collaboration between three major UK universities and the Medical Research Council (MRC) has led to the opening of a centre for imaging research, which aims to provide a platform for pharma companies to better understand how developmental drugs work in the human body.

The joint venture, which operates under the name Imanova, sees Kings College London (KCL), University College London (UCL), Imperial College London and the MRC take over a site formerly run by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London that contains both PET and MRI scanning facilities.

“Our aim is to accelerate the translation of great science into clinically and commercially relevant products and services,” said Imanova's CEO, Kevin Cox, during his launch speech.

By using the centre's technology, scientists will be able to study the activity of an investigational drug in the body, while also tracking its potential effect on the body's system.

It is hoped this would speed up the process of drug development, by enabling companies to work out if a drug is likely to prove effective at an earlier stage of the development process and determining whether or not to continue their investigation.

Neuroscience is expected to be the main area of study at the centre, although inflammatory disorders and oncology will also be investigated. One line of research already underway involves the introduction of a new biomarker for schizophrenia to help discover novel treatments.

Kevin Cox, CEO of Imanova, describes how imaging could benefit the pharma industry

In addition to speeding up the drug discover process, such techniques provide an important alternative to the use of animals during certain stages of drug research, according to GSK's Paul Matthews, who helped design the centre when it was owned by GSK.

“Animal models are important for understanding the potential safety and efficacy of new medicines, but they only tell part of the story,” he said.

“Mouse physiology is not human physiology. A model is not the disease. We need to be able to do sophisticated pharmacology and physiology non-invasively in humans to build powerfully on lessons from animal studies for an impact on human disease.”

Also speaking at Imanova's launch was David Willetts (pictured), minister for universities and sciences, who praised the ethos of partnership behind this “imaginative collaboration”.

“When it comes to research, we have a system that is intensely competitive, and it is my view as a layman that it would be great to see rather more co-operation and collaboration,” he said.

“And to have three London universities coming together with the MRC is an excellent example of the kind of collaborative working we are going to need in the future, as we maintain our world class position in science and research.”

This was a view backed by the MRC's chief executive Sir John Savill, who said: “I have no doubt that Imanova will become a magnet for partnerships in high quality research across the UK, adding value to imaging facilities right across the country.

Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, describes the organisation's involvement

16th May 2012

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