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New UK Precision Medicine Lab Supported With £87.5M to Focus on Pharmacogenomics, AI-Based Imaging

NEW YORK – The University of Glasgow will host a new laboratory focused on translating innovations in genomics, artificial intelligence, and imaging into clinical practice.

The project, called the Precision Medicine Living Lab, has received £38 million ($48 million) through UK Research and Innovation to support its activities, while industrial partners and the City of Glasgow have pledged an additional £22 million and £27.5 million, respectively.

The firms supporting the new lab include Thermo Fisher Scientific, Canon Medical, and Siemens Healthineers, all of which will contribute their know-how and technologies to the effort. According to Anna Dominiczak, head of the College of Medical, Veterinary, and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow, the new lab intends to serve as a beacon to others in the field.

"We are not parochial, we believe discoveries in this program will have absolute international value," said Dominiczak, noting that the companies involved will be able to export their innovations to customers worldwide. "We will start local but have the ambition to be an international leading center for precision medicine," she said.

The envisioned Living Lab will be based at the University of Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Campus in Govan, a district in southwest Glasgow. Other partners include the National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, Scottish Enterprise, the Glasgow Science Center, Precision Medicine Scotland, Kadans Science Partner, MR Coiltech Ltd., Bioclavis, Aridhia, and iCAIRD, the Industrial Center for Artificial Intelligence Research.

Ultimately, about 500 people are expected to be employed by the center.

The premise of the Living Lab is to draw on the resources of what Dominiczak calls the"triple helix" of academia, industry, and the NHS to support development of precision medicine, enabling uptake of pharmacogenomics-based medication management, diagnostics, transcriptomics, and advanced imaging within the Scottish healthcare system.

In addition to piloting new tests, the lab will support new and existing businesses, while demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of new approaches within the NHS.

While initial projects are still in development, Dominiczak said that pharmacogenomics is at the top of the list, though no partner has been decided on or named.

A Thermo Fisher Scientific spokesperson said the company could support the lab's activities in pharmacogenomics but declined further comment at this time. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based company currently advertises a variety of offerings for pharmacogenomics on its real-time PCR, Axiom microarray, and Ion AmpliSeq platforms.

According to Dominiczak, pharmacogenomic testing is not yet done routinely by the NHS, but by drawing on its partners' technology, along with access to health data within NHS Scotland, the lab hopes to eventually embed such testing into clinical practice in the UK.

"Scotland is a special place," underscored Dominiczak. "There is almost no private medicine, there is huge acceptance of the NHS, and we have a fantastic collaboration with the health board that provides acute medicine for 1.2 million Scots, and specialist care for 2.3 million," she said. "These collaborations allow us to have access to all the good things that the NHS provides."

According to the UK Office for National Statistics, there were around 5.5 million people in Scotland as of 2019.

But while pharmacogenomics is an immediate target, Dominczak stressed that the Precision Medicine Living Lab will be a "combination of genomics and multidiagnostic modalities." She noted that companies will be able to work on campus within the lab's Clinical Innovation Zone, which will include lab and office space. 

"This space allows us to attract and bring companies interested in precision medicine," said Dominiczak. "That includes some genomics, some imaging and some companies interested in implementing new AI solutions."

AI and imaging

Two of the firms that will contribute to projects around AI and imaging are Canon and Siemens. Ken Sutherland, president of Canon Medical Research Europe, based in Edinburgh, said that the company has already been working with partners at Glasgow as part of the £16 million iCAIRD project, which has been working to convert Scottish pathologists to digital imaging platforms.

"We’re hoping to build on that collaboration significantly through the Living Lab project," Sutherland said. Within iCAIRD, Canon has been providing AI-enabled diagnostic decision support for radiology imaging. "The Precision Medicine Living Lab project will broaden this collaboration significantly and allow us to look at how different kinds of patient data are accumulated and interpreted by multidisciplinary teams when making complex treatment decisions for patients," noted Sutherland.

Sutherland said that Canon will offer its in-house AI technology and its "clinical cockpit" to support the new project but also intends to work with other innovators and companies who will be drawn to work in Glasgow as part of the Living Lab. The company's team includes software engineers and architects who develop services and web applications for partners, including tools for selecting and annotating patient data for machine learning, as well as infrastructure for partner data scientists to develop, train, and validate algorithms within a hospital environment.

"We already have an office in the Clinical Innovation Zone at [Queen Elizabeth University Hospital], but this new project will require us to have more staff working regularly in Glasgow," he added. Sutherland did not elaborate.

Like Canon, Siemens is already a partner of the University of Glasgow as well as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Craig Buckley, head of research and scientific collaboration at Siemens Healthineers for the UK and Ireland, said that the Living Lab will have access to a "strong development platform," which includes experience in running clinical trials in Scotland, as well as expertise in imaging. Buckley noted that Glasgow is one of the few sites in the world to use Siemens' Magnetom Terra 7T MRI system in a clinical environment, and the only such site in Scotland to do so.

"There is ongoing development work in this field, examining the role of multiple transmission channels to fully realize the potential of ultra-high-field technology in 7T MRI systems," Buckley said. He noted that Siemens Healthineers also supports the Imaging Center of Excellence at the University of Glasgow, and that researchers at both Siemens and at the university have been collaborating in a clinical trial aimed at advancing diffusion imaging of the brain.

"This aims to bring unprecedented resolution and whole-brain coverage at 7T to add significant clinical innovation and impact to precision medicine," Buckley said.

The Living Lab project also includes radiofrequency coil development, Buckley commented, and the partners are developing hardware to complement advances in parallel transmit (pTX) imaging methods. "This project aligns closely with our goal of expanding the clinical capabilities of ultra-high-field imaging on the Magnetom Terra 7T MRI system," Buckley said. "Ultimately, we look to advance brain and musculoskeletal imaging capabilities, beyond current CE mark standards, by integrating the capabilities of pTX methods," he said. "This will be facilitated by the development of new RF coil technology, sequence prototypes, and clinical validation."

Siemens Healthineers will also evaluate any scientific developments made in the project as future product releases as the partnership evolves, Buckley noted.