RNA interference is hitting the market - Alnylam’s success heralds a new era for RNAi therapeutics

It has been a bumpy ride for RNA interference-based therapeutics. The protein-silencing phenomenon that shot into the spotlight with its 2006 Nobel Prize fell (aptly) quiet thereafter, suffering clinical disappointments and losing high-profile backing. But it is back with a bang: the first RNAi drug was FDA approved in August and a number of Big Pharma companies are striking deals with developers. Does this mark a watershed moment for RNAi therapeutics?

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CAR-T cells and Autolus - Advanced Cell Programming Technology

Over the past few decades, there has been a new wave of cancer therapeutics, called immunotherapies, that are capable of activating the immune system to recognise and fight malignant cells. One of the emerging therapies of this type, which begins to enter the clinic, is the Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. Here we explore CAR T-cell therapy and Autolus, one of the pioneering companies in the field.

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Health Technology - The Digital Revolution: Part 2 Digitising Diabetes

Technological advances are permeating into the healthcare industry and are transforming the norns of patient care. The development of medical technology (MedTech) devices that can be used by clinicians, nurses, technicians and, most importantly, patients themselves is rapidly increasing. Such technologies are enabling greater access to patient data to monitor disease status and predict future health events. With tech giants such as Google and Apple diving into healthcare, only further acceleration of these patient-centred technologies can be expected, unlocking a wealth of patient data. Not only this, but the rise of wearables and mobile technologies has expedited the mass collation of health data.

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Health Technology: The Digital Revolution - Part 1: AI & Imaging

Our era is witnessing a technological revolution. Healthcare is becoming increasingly digitised, empowering both patient and physician. We’re using computational power and data to better predict, diagnose and manage patients with complex health conditions. In part one of this series we explore AI and imaging and the effects these have on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

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Bioprinting: a myriad of (t)issues

Bioprinting uses 3D printing-like techniques to combine cells, growth factors, and biomaterials - collectively named ‘bioinks’ - to create living tissues that almost perfectly mimic their structure in the body. Bioinks are deposited layer by layer onto a supporting hydrogel, which functions like paper in conventional printing. However, unlike normal printing, the hydrogel dissolves once the product is mature, leaving it freestanding.

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Scientists enter research collaboration to outsmart cancer

Cancer is a disease that afflicts an alarming number of people, with one in two being diagnosed with a type of cancer during their lifetime. The global cancer burden has risen to 18.1 million people in 2018, which makes cancer one of the leading causes of death worldwide. While clinical developments and advances in early detection and treatment have already changed the lives of many people suffering from this disease, there is still a tremendous need to develop new knowledge and make new breakthroughs in cancer drug discovery and development.

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Press releaseTobias
Machine Medicine Technologies: A tale of AI in healthcare

Machine Medicine Technologies is a London-based digital healthtech start-up that has developed a mobile app that digitally detects the motor characteristics of Parkinson’s disease.

Lovingly named after the famous physicist, Baron Kelvin, who had a penchant for measuring things, the platform can be used on any device, be it smartphone or tablet, to record, store and analyse the motor function of Parkinson’s patients on video. Using machine learning, the software analyses a video clip of a patient’s motor function to detect motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s patients far more reliably than doctors can on their own. Machine Medicine Technologies, and Kelvin with it, is a prime example of the transformative influence of AI on healthcare.

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Climbing Everest: From Zero to One with a Life Science Startup

I spoke to Dr George Frodsham, founder and CEO of MediSieve, a startup seeking to revolutionise the treatment of blood-borne diseases with a novel magnetic blood filtration technology. He described his journey from a back-of-an-envelope idea to a £1.56m grant from Innovate UK, compared building a life science startup to scaling Mount Everest and offered some advice for those attempting the climb.

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Nightstar Therapeutics: Catching The Eye

Nightstar Therapeutics is a London-based clinical-stage gene therapy company developing treatments for inherited retinal diseases that lead to progressive blindness. Nightstar was born as a spinout from Oxford University, co-founded by Professor of Ophthalmology, Robert MacLaren. The company’s pipeline of therapies focusses on rare eye diseases that have no currently approved treatments, presenting a clear unmet medical need for patients. As a result, investors have been keen to tap into this potentially lucrative gap in the healthcare market. Indeed, since Nightstar’s initial public offering (IPO) on the USA’s biotech-friendly NASDAQ stock exchange market in September 2017, it has grown to boast a market capitalisation of $500 million.

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HUMAN 2.0: What does the future look like for the human mind & body?

This February and March, the SEC is looking at what impact human augmentation will have on the future of our physiology. We will explore the potential scientific, social and ethical implications of human augmentation through the lens of four different technologies including brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), bionics and prosthetics, neurotechnology and gene editing, and finally, bioprinting. But before looking at our first technology, we examine what human augmentation actually is, its origins and how close it is to commercialisation.

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Entrepreneurship starts with rejecting conventional thinking

I visited the Imperial College Incubator in White City, London, to talk with Steven O’Connell, the associate director and programme manager at RebelBio, a life science startup programme backed by VC firm SOSV. Steven completed an undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical biotechnology at the Cork Institute of Technology and a translational masters degree in Biotech and Business at University College Dublin before joining a startup called GlowDx, which was part of an early RebelBio cohort. From there he went on to join RebelBio as the programme manager and has helped nurture over 60 life science startups over 7 cohorts. We discussed RebelBio’s approach in selecting promising startups and how to maximise their chances of success, as well as how scientists should reject conventional thinking when approaching entrepreneurship.  

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GW Pharmaceuticals: Cambridge’s Marijuana Powerhouse

Based in Cambridge, UK, yet listed on the USA’s Nasdaq Stock Exchange Market, the bio-pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals is aiming to become the worldwide leader in medical marijuana treatments. Founded in 1998 by Dr Geoffrey Guy and Dr Brian Whittle, GW initially focussed much of its pioneering research and development in symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. That same year, GW obtained a unique licence from the Home Office to cultivate Cannabis seeds on UK soil. By moving from London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) to the USA’s biotech-friendly Nasdaq market, GW quickly tapped into a burgeoning field of marijuana-mad investors at a time when American state laws were easing on the long-time locked-down cannabis drug. Valued today as a $4.5 billion company, and with share prices having risen from $8.90 to over $150 in just 5 years, GW has now grown to produce therapies for epilepsy and even carry out trials with cannabis-derived cancer drugs.

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Desktop Genetics – The successful marriage of AI and genome editing

Desktop Genetics was founded in 2012 by a chemical engineer, a molecular biologist and a biochemist with the vision to combine bioinformatics and genetics to support researchers on their quest to cure human genetic diseases. With the advent of CRISPR-Cas9 in 2013, Desktop Genetics redirected its focus entirely onto the development of an artificial intelligence (AI) system. The system is tailored to design custom CRISPR libraries, an effort honoured by the founders’ placement on the Forbes 30 under 30 of Europe’s Technology sector. For those who have miraculously evaded all the rage about CRISPR-Cas9, it is the most precise genome editing technology currently available. It is based on a viral defence mechanism found in certain bacteria, and uses an endonuclease (Cas9) guided by a single-RNA to precisely target and cut complementary genomic sequences. This can then be used to introduce either mutations, knock-ins, knock-outs, or replace a faulty piece of DNA with a correct one.

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From London to Silicon Valley and back again: A scientific entrepreneur’s tale

I visited Sixfold Biosciences in the Imperial College Innovation and Translation Hub to have a chat with their co-founder Anna Perdrix Rosell. Anna is an oncology PhD student at the Francis Crick Institute and made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 list for European science and healthcare this year. With her co-founders, George Foot and Zuzanna Brzosko, they are developing Sixfold’s unique Programmable Oligonucleotide Delivery Devices (PODDs), which aim to deliver gene therapy molecules exclusively to diseased cells. Sixfold Bioscience went through Y Combinator (the top U.S. accelerator) at the beginning of 2018 and have since received seed funding from Silicon Valley investors. We discussed what it was like starting a company during her PhD, the key barriers facing young entrepreneurial scientists and what motivated her to work in biotech.

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Fueling the Future? The Rise and Fall of Biofuels.

There is a pressing need to develop alternatives to fossil-fuel-derived oils that are used in our transport vehicles. The term “petroleum” covers both naturally occurring unprocessed crude oil and products made up of refined crude oil, which is obtained via drilling into geological formations beneath the Earth’s surface. Over the last decade, environmental groups have been keen to stress the negative environmental effects of the petroleum industry: the combustion of such fuels contributes to climate change and acid rain, oil spills are damaging to aquatic organisms, and drilling can influence seismic activity. That’s to name a few. But change is coming.

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