UK Gov teams to aid academic gene therapy developers source vectors

Academics developing gene therapies often struggle to source vectors say the MRC and Lifearc, which plan to set up UK viral vector production network.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) – a non-departmental government agency – and Lifearc – a research charity – announced plans for the network and a £16 million ($20 million) fund for the project on May 4.

The idea is to provide grants UK-based research organizations can use to expand vector suites or repurposed facilities to make vectors needed for early stage gene therapy projects.

Image: iStock/kasto80

The facilities – or hubs – will form a network to provide academics with access to vector suppliers, which are currently thin on the ground according to LifeArc senior legal counsel, Chelsea Roche.

“Academic-facing GMP vector suppliers in the UK are limited. A number of UK groups have developed plans to build, extend or repurpose GMP suites for viral vector manufacture – however, all these plans are limited by a lack of available funding.

“While there is increasing commercial interest in this sector, it is apparent that their inevitable focus is on later-stage commercial projects and so academic demand will not be met. Demand consistently outstrips supply with many academic researchers seeking GMP vector overseas.”

AAV capacity limited

There are currently no adeno associated virus (AAV) vector manufacturing facilities in the UK focused on supporting academic needs, according to Roche, who said “addressing this will be a priority.”

She went on to say, “Proposals focusing on Lentivirus, a combination of AAV and Lentivirus production or other gene therapy technology would also be welcomed.”

The MRC and LifeArc invited interested research organization to apply for grants. The main focus is academic-scale projects however, organizations catering for academia and commercial customers will be considered, according to Roche.

“Funding to expand or extend a commercial facility with dedicated capability for academically-led projects, in parallel with commercial capacity funded elsewhere, will be acceptable.

“These facilities would be expected to upscale capacity for academically-led projects proportionately to any funding received through this call.”

In addition, the hubs will offer users access to LifeArc’s translation advice and support expertise.

LifeArc was originally MRC Technology, however, it was rebranded in 2007 when it announced plans to invest £500 million in medical research over the next five years.

In 2019 the charity sold royalty rights to Merck & Co’s cancer drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for $1.3 billion.

MRC Technology gained the rights in 2007 after it helped Organon humanize the antibody candidate that became Keytruda.