CRDN host rare stage at Innovation Forum Health Horizons

CRDN host rare stage at Innovation Forum Health Horizons

CRDN brings the RARE voice to major life sciences event

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Cambridge Biotech week,  25th – 28th of June 2019,  was a brand new festival of events launched by the Global Innovation Forum designed to accelerate scientific ideas and support investment and growth for companies in the field of life sciences.

Events took place  across Cambridge and included the Health Horizons Future Healthcare Forum,  the Milner Therapeutics Symposium, Digital Disruptors, Scaling up Success in Biotech hosted by One Nucleus and the Hong Kong Biotech Roadshow.  As part of the two day Health Horizons Forum, Cambridge Rare Disease Network were honoured to host  ‘Rare Disease Innovation and Collaboration’ at Corpus Christi College. 

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From left to right – Prof Tim Cox, Dr Rick Thompson, Patricia Durao-Lewi, Dr Tim Guilliams

Health Horizons is a high calibre, two-day conference focusing on the future of the healthcare industry. Over 100 hard-hitting speakers gathered to address this challenge and share their thoughts with a global audience. The Cambridge Independent shared their “Five things we learned at Health Horizons” summing up that “it’s all about being interdisciplinary”, “research needs to be translated”, “scientific co-creation can follow from serendipity” and “open innovation can accelerate progress”. Needless to say we were delighted to bring the conversation around to the development of treatments and cures for rare diseases and promote the patient voice as essential to these interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches.

As with all of our events, it’s great to have a broad range of stakeholders in attendance. A global audience of patient groups and rare disease advocates, industry, healthcare, research and technology professionals were in attendance to benefit from the thought-provoking presentations of our four speakers who are at the heart of innovative breakthroughs in therapies and technology.  Delegates were able to share in their expertise in co-creating innovative solutions to some of rare disease’s most challenging healthcare issues. Presentations and Q+A were followed by a lively panel discussion moderated by CRDN Trustee Prof. Tim Cox.

The race to introduce new medicines, provide healthcare and stimulate investment often misses the point for patients at the centre of our network… Strong, forward-looking talks from all the speakers showed what can be achieved in true partnership – and how. Put simply: different means for each party needs to be understood if the common goal is to be achieved.

Professor Tim Cox

CRDN Trustee

THE Presentations in a Nut-Shell

Professor Tim Cox – Professor of medicine and trustee of CRDN
What is it to be rare?

From the diagnostic odyssey still faced by patients with rare diseases to the rise of drug buyers clubs, Professor Cox discussed the current climate and how his belief in human connections and collaborative and combined thoughts and effort will have the greatest potential for solving the biggest challenges in rare disease drug development. Tim spoke with a passion and empathy which comes from many years of working closely with affected patients, their families and with patient groups.

 

Dr Tim Gulliams – CEO and Co-Founder of Healx
Drug repurposing for rare diseases: patient group partnerships at the heart of AI

Dr Tim Guilliams spoke passionately about the importance of collaborating with patient groups and how invaluable this has been in their work in drug repurposing. Tim described some of the huge leaps forward that the Cambridge-based start up company has made using AI and big data to find drug-repurposing options for 100 rare diseases by 2025. But his message was clear, that their partnerships with patient groups who can share their lived experience are vital to their success.

 

Patricia Durao-Lewi Co-Founder of CATS Foundation
Patient organisations driving research: collaboration is the key

An inspirational presentation showing the sheer power of a united patient community. From being told they would never meet another Tay-Sachs patient to hosting their sixth European family conference and the creation of the European Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff Charity Consortium Patricia demonstrated how collaboration with other Tay-Sachs patient groups globally and a firm partnership with Prof Tim Cox and his team has allowed them to create a powerful and united narrative for Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff disease. Their purposeful and focussed collaborative approach has resulted in a comprehensive patient registry, successful funding bids and a promising research pipeline with clinical trial dates set for 2019 and 2020.

I would hope that my talk helped delegates understand that rare disease must be tackled from all angles. This means including patient organisations so that they can work together with pharma and researchers as a more powerful team.

Patricia Durao-Lewi

CATS Foundation

Healx raise funding to repurpose drugs for rare diseases

Healx raise funding to repurpose drugs for rare diseases

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Congratulations to Cambridge start-up, Healx, co-founded by founder and trustee of CRDN, as it raises $10m to help repurpose drugs for rare diseases.

Forbes and the Telegraph today report that the co-founders of Healx, Tim Guilliams – founder and trustee of CRDN, and British inventor of Viagra – Dr David Brown, have raised funding of $10m for their Cambridge start-up that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to find medicines to treat some of the world’s rarest diseases.

The Telegraph states “Dr David Brown, the scientist who developed the blockbuster treatment for erectile dysfunction for Pfizer, is the co-founder of Healx, a UK medical tech startup that uses machine learning to find treatments for 7,000 rare conditions that do not currently have an approved method of treatment”.

 

It goes on to explain why Healx believe that the lengthy traditional drug discovery process isn’t economic for rare diseases and how they hope to accelerate the time to drug discovery and reduce costs through their AI technology driven systems which search for drugs that can be repurposed. 

Dr Brown’s work with Viagra, which was developed originally to treat heart patients, proved that drugs intended to help one condition can sometimes be adapted to treat others. To read the full article click here.

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CRDN Inaugural Summit: Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment

CRDN Inaugural Summit: Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment

Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment

Article by Paul Tunnah, Pharmaphorum

Passion

The level of passion for making a difference among all those working in rare diseases is incredible, but it is no doubt led by the patients and their families themselves, each with their own unique story. But it is the ability for these individuals to truly empower themselves and cross the bridge from patient/carer to researcher, communicator and innovator that never ceases to amaze me. 

Take the example of Matt Might whose response to his son’s initially undiagnosed condition was to secure funding for his entire genome sequencing and identify a completely new rare disease cause by a mutation in the NGLY1 gene. Since then, he has built a global community (NGLY1.org), which has so far identified 39 patients around the world, accepted a Visiting Professorship at Harvard Medical School and is now actively leading the race to find a drug that can be used as an effective treatment.

His opening keynote set the tone for the entire day and his experience is reflective of many others who are taking the same proactive steps and not waiting for others to bring the medicine to them. Nick Sireau, one of the CRDN founders and Chairman of the AKU Society and Findacure, is another good example in the work he has done to identify a treatment for his two sons, who have alkaptonuria (AKU), also known as black bone disease.

Innovation comes in many forms, but drug development is at the core of it

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Professor Gregory Winter – Cam Uni and Cambridge Antibody Technology (right), Dr Tim Guilliams – Founder and Chair CRDN (left)

 Innovation

Such passion needs to be combined with innovation to help find solutions to the problems that rare disease patients and their families face. Innovation comes in many forms, but drug development is at the core of it and the Summit featured several notable scientific researchers sharing their experiences.

 Professor Sir Greg Winter, cofounder of Cambridge Antibody Technology and local to Cambridge as Master of Trinity College, explained the science of synthetic antibodies and their critical role in treating diseases where the genetic pathways are well understood, including their developing application in rare diseases. His current focus is on bicyclic small peptides, which could hold the same therapeutic potential as antibodies, while being able to permeate cells more easily owing to their small size and being cheaper to produce. A later speech by Professor Steve Jackson, also locally based with his work at The Gurdon Institute, presented equally dazzling science into the mechanisms of DNA-repair pathways. Although early application has been in cancer treatment (Jackson was a founder of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, which developed olaparib and was later acquired by AstraZeneca), the potential is much broader and his work touches on rare diseases such as ataxia.

Innovation also comes in how the rare disease community is connected to help elevate disease awareness and aid in bringing such great science to patients. Eurordis, the ‘voice of rare disease patients in Europe’ has been at the forefront of activities here and clearly has ambitions to expand into a more global role. Denis Costello, RareConnect Project Leader, provided a sneak preview of what the new RareConnect.org information platform will look like, which appears to be very much like a Google for rare diseases, including translation into multiple languages. With launch anticipated in the next couple of months, watch this space!

Passion and innovation is impossible to translate into front-line treatment without sufficient funding

Investment

Innovation also comes in how the rare disease community is connected to help elevate disease awareness and aid in bringing such great science to patients. Eurordis, the ‘voice of rare disease patients in Europe’ has been at the forefront of activities here and clearly has ambitions to expand into a more global role. Denis Costello, RareConnect Project Leader, provided a sneak preview of what the new RareConnect.org information platform will look like, which appears to be very much like a Google for rare diseases, including translation into multiple languages. With launch anticipated in the next couple of months, watch this space!

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Herman Hauser – speaker 

 One topic for the day was the idea of ‘repurposing’ – taking existing drugs for more common conditions and securing approval for them to be used as a rare disease therapeutic. This has been a core focus for the work of the aforementioned champions like Matt Might, but more systematic initiatives are now underway with platforms like  www.cureaccelerator.org. Dr Bruce Bloom, President of Cures Within Reach, the organisation behind Cure Accelerator, also outlined how they are trying to work with the generics industry as a whole to support drug repurposing.

While charities such as MRC Technology are working tirelessly to help fund the transition from research to treatment and there is a sense that more funding is flowing in the direction of this area (something also covered by Professor Steve Jackson), there is a clear need to explore novel funding mechanisms. This was covered during an interesting session on ‘alternative funding strategies’, which included crowdfunding and the growing area of impact investing, where investment is made not just on the basis of expected return financially, but also what ethical impact the work will have. 

Could we see ‘social investment bonds’ help drive future rare disease research?

Paul Tunnah

Ultimately, it is clear that the involvement of commercial companies in rare diseases is critical to accelerate the race to find cures. Financial incentives are part of the solution here, but also needed is the realisation that a rare disease indication can provide a good ‘foothold’ for approval as a precursor to approval in a broader range of indications. In addition, the experience gained from working in the microcosm of rare diseases could also have much broader benefits, as personalised medicine holds the potential to ultimately segment common conditions into clusters of rare diseases.

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Professor Stephen Hawking provided a video keynote 

A closing video keynote from none other than Professor Stephen Hawking reminded us all of the importance of continued activity in tackling the challenges of rare diseases. Hawking, who was diagnosed at a young age with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease, has defied the odds in staying alive, but how many brilliant minds have been lost too early under similar circumstances? I would challenge any health economist to calculate the benefits of investing in rare disease treatment in that context