Drugs researchers have launched a £1 million project at the University of Huddersfield.
The new Centre for Biomarker Research (CeBioR) aims to speed up the development of new drugs for a range of conditions and diseases.
The centre, headed by Dr Patrick McHugh, has secured £500,000 from a UK-based investment company, funding matched by the university itself.
Dr McHugh said: “The centre will be at the forefront of health or medical-related research within the university and beyond.
“It brings together academics and researchers in areas of biomarker discovery, identifying new ways to improve diagnosis and treatment.”
Biomarkers can be taken from any tissue but blood is the simplest source and one CeBioR objective is develop a new blood test that provides a quick and highly-informative diagnosis for a range of diseases.
Dr McHugh, whose speciality is in chronic pain, neuro-degeneration and psychiatric disorders, added: “In the past people would assume that a blood test couldn’t give you enough information about disease of the brain, for example. But we now know that inflammation of the body can lead to brain diseases, therefore we can detect them more readily.”
Another dimension of the new centre’s research is that biomarkers can be used to make drug development more efficient.
Huge sums of money are currently wasted during pre-clinical and clinical trials because it transpires that experimental drugs do not match biological systems in animals. As a result, 99% of drugs do not progress from toxicological tests in animals to the human testing phase.
But by identifying beforehand the disease biomarkers that are common to humans and animals, the new research centre could ensure that drug testing is more efficient and economic, with reductions in the necessity for animal experimentation.
“Because we don’t have an animal facility here at the university we are developing advanced in vitro systems for modelling disease including stems cells and 3D cultures,” said Dr McHugh.
“They will allow us to eliminate in advance a lot of the drugs that you would have to test on animals. This will greatly reduce the need to sacrifice animals during the pre-clinical stages of drug development.”
The centre, a five-year project, will have more than 50 staff and students. The company which invested £500,000 is Yes Tequila, a recruitment firm that also has a socially-responsible investment arm.