Game-changing gene therapies are focus of £14m research hub

Professor Susan Rosser is to head the new Engineered Genetic Control Systems for Advanced Therapeutics Hub
Professor Susan Rosser is to head the new Engineered Genetic Control Systems for Advanced Therapeutics Hub

The University is to establish a new research and innovation hub focused on developing gene therapies to help treat or cure disease.

The £14.25m Engineered Genetic Control Systems for Advanced Therapeutics Hub will develop improved gene therapy techniques for patients with serious conditions.

It will create new biological tools to improve the effectiveness and safety of gene therapies, testing them in cancers, cardiovascular disease and rare diseases.

The hub, led by Professor Susan Rosser of the schools of Engineering and Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, will bring together a multidisciplinary team from the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, Imperial College London and the CRUK Scotland Institute.

Professor Rosser said:

“Gene therapies have the potential to revolutionise healthcare by treating or even curing disease. But for them to be effective and safe they need to be delivered to the right place in the body, in the right amount, and for the right length of time. This is where engineering biology comes in.

"By developing a suite of tools and training scientists for academia and industry, we hope to realise the UK’s potential to be a global leader in engineering biology for healthcare and, ultimately, to improve global health.”

The Head of the School of Engineering, Professor Gareth Harrison said:

"I am thrilled by the announcement of significant funding for a new Hub to advance gene therapy techniques for patients with serious health conditions. Under Professor Rosser's leadership, this new collaboration promises to bring the revolutionary benefits of gene therapies one step closer.”

Professor Rosser worked with Edinburgh Innovations (EI), the University’s commercialisation service, to secure the support and engagement from industry necessary for the Hub.

Targeted treatment

Gene therapies work by replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy one, inactivating disease-causing genes or introducing new or modified genes to help treat a disease.

For gene therapies to be effective and safe they need to precisely target the correct tissue, at the right level and for the right amount of time.

The team will develop and test a range of delivery systems, which involve the use of harmless viruses, stripped of their disease-causing abilities, to insert therapeutic genes into the correct tissue.

They will also build and test other genetic components that allow precise control over a therapeutic gene’s level of activity and duration of action inside human cells.

Urgent global challenges

Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said:

“I am delighted that our researchers will play such pivotal roles in driving the next wave of innovation in engineering biology. These exciting technologies could help deliver a wide range of benefits to society, by providing new tools to tackle challenges in areas including health, environment and sustainability.

“The research carried within these new hubs will contribute directly to the core missions of our recently launched Research and Innovation Strategy 2030, which aims to galvanise activity across the whole University to tackle urgent global challenges.”

Research hubs

The new centre is one of six announced as part of a £100m UK-wide investment in engineering biology by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Funding for the new hubs was provided by the UKRI Technology Missions Fund, with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

University of Edinburgh researchers are also part of two other new hubs: the Preventing Plastic Pollution with Engineering Biology (P3EB) Mission Hub led by the University of Portsmouth and the Environmental Biotechnology Innovation Centre (EBIC), led by Cranfield University, which both involve researchers from the School of Biological Sciences.

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