The UK government’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSCRC) is investing £5.3 million over five years in a Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine at Loughborough University.

The Loughborough facility is one of three state-of-the-art manufacturing research centres selected as initial recipients of EPSCRC funding under a £70 million programme that will roll out over the next year. A total of 28 industrial and government partners will contribute a further £3 million to the regenerative medicine (RM) centre.

The centre’s remit is to carry out “world-leading” research, test and implement ideas in both clinical and industrial settings, create next-generation platforms for manufacturing regenerative medicines, and to inform business models, policy and public debate in the field, said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Along with the aforementioned partners from industry and the public sector, Loughborough University will work with the Universities of Nottingham and Keele on delivering the centre’s agenda. The new facility is expected to be up and running in September 2010.

It will be headed by David Williams, professor of healthcare engineering at Loughborough University, who commented: “Without doubt, RM has massive potential – especially for tackling chronic, debilitating conditions like heart disease and arthritis that will become increasingly prevalent due to our ageing population”.

At the same time, Williams added, “it’s not enough simply to come up with clever ideas for curing such conditions. It’s about translating ideas into safe, affordable, cost-effective treatments that combine life-changing impact for patients with maximum commercial value”.

Robust practices

One of the centre’s key priorities, the EPSRC noted, will be to pinpoint “commercially robust” practices and processes that can be introduced in critical areas such as product innovation/development, quality control and good manufacturing practice, as well as negotiating regulatory pathways and product reimbursement.

Another crucial goal will be encouraging the take-up of RM therapies in the UK healthcare sector, the EPSRC said, pointing to the need for authoritative studies to influence healthcare policy and to identify “ways of eliminating bottlenecks that now hamper the translation of promising ideas for RM treatments into final products suited for clinical use”.

The government’s announcement was welcomed by the BioIndustry Association (BIA), which noted that Review and Refresh of Bioscience 2015, the progress report issued in January 2009 by the Bioscience Innovation and Growth team headed by Sir David Cooksey, called for investment in the emerging regenerative medicine industry.

The government’s New Industry New Jobs proposals and the Life Sciences Blueprint published by the Office for Life Sciences in July 2009 also recognised that high-technology manufacturing would be pivotal to the UK’s economic future, the BIA pointed out.

The government-backed Technology Strategy Board has just announced awards of nearly £6.5 million in total to support short-term feasibility studies for a broad range of innovative technologies. This sum includes up to £100,000 each for a further 31 studies in regenerative medicine.