The UK’s Technology Strategy Board has launched a new programme designed to place the country at the forefront of medicines tailored to smaller and more responsive subsets of patients.

The Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform will bring together researchers, policymakers and the private sector in an initiative drawing on government funding of over £50 million for innovative research and development in areas such as tumour profiling to improve cancer care and biomarker development to enhance drug effectiveness.

The Technology Strategy Board, an arm’s length public body established by the UK government and sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has already signed up as partners in the Platform the Department of Health for England, the Scottish Government Health Directorates, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and Cancer Research UK.

These bodies will variously supply funding, expertise, advice, research support and infrastructure to help move the initiative forward. The first R&D funding competitions to be managed by the Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform will kick off in January 2011, with total investment of more than £11 million from the Technology Strategy Board.

These competitions will focus on tumour profiling and data capture (funding of up to £5.6 million), biomarker development (up to £4 million) and constructing business models and value systems for stratified medicines (up to £1.5 million).

The Platform is a five-year partnership programme that will develop a series of activities at national level to address the challenges of stratification for the benefit of business, healthcare providers and the wider economy. It will initially focus on:

• Tumour profiling in cancer, with an initial emphasis on breast, lung, colorectal. prostate, ovarian and skin cancer, as well as associated technologies.    

• Biomarker implementation to provide validated tests that can predict responses to marketed drugs, or drugs in development, in health conditions of clinical and commercial importance to the UK.

These are areas that present a challenge to healthcare providers, are ready for a stratified approach, and provide a significant market opportunity, the Technology Strategy Board explained. The Platform will address them by building on the UK’s commercial and academic strengths, the assets of the National Health Service and close liaison between research and policy.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) already has a joint initiative with the MRC involving the stratification of treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The aim is to extend this programme under the new Innovation Platform.

ABPI director general Richard Barker commented: "We have campaigned strongly for the UK to take a leadership role in this new era of personalised medicine, so we are absolutely delighted that the Technology Strategy Board is giving this initiative such strong support”.

The aim of stratified or personalised medicine “is to use advanced life science technology to bring the right medicine to the right patient at the right time”, Barker noted. “This initiative will address some of the remaining barriers, such as co-development of medicines and companion diagnostics, to make this a reality for patients – here and around the world.”

The BioIndustry Association also welcomed the initiative, pointing out that establishing a stratified disease strategy was one of the recommendations in the Review and Refresh of Bioscience 2015, an independent report published in January 2009 by the Bioscience Innovation and Growth Team.