Healthy ageing and nutrition takes centre stage in UK’s Life Sciences Vision

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Published yesterday, the publication ​sets out the healthcare areas the government intends to address, using the lessons learnt and success achieved from its COVID-19 response, in the fight against cancer and dementia.

“We are indebted to the ingenuity of UK life sciences and its pioneers, with the discovery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the seamless collaboration between our scientists, industry, regulators and NHS saving millions of lives during the pandemic,”​ says Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“We must make sure this is the norm and use this new way of working to search for life-changing breakthroughs against diseases such as cancer, dementia and obesity, as we have done with COVID.

“That’s why we are setting out our new Life Sciences Vision to bottle the formula we have developed to tackle COVID and improve health outcomes for patients across the board in the UK, and secure jobs and investment in the process as we build back better.”

The biology of ageing

One of the commitments made by Johnson is to address the underlying biology of ageing, in which the Vision will set out to identify common underpinning mechanisms that lead to organ decline and fail, which characterises the ageing process.

“There is a wealth of emerging literature on mechanisms believed to be involved in common ageing processes in multiple organs,” ​the publication’s authors write.

“These include DNA repair, telomer shortening, stem cell regeneration, insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signalling, nutritional factors and chronic inflammation.

Molecular pathways involving nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) or sirtuins have been well described and there is now an abundance of literature on potential pathways and targets that might be used to address the most inevitable cause of disease in human populations.”

The hope is through collaborations between government and industry, the pathways linked with multi-system ageing can be identified and used to discover new diagnostics, therapeutic and medtech interventions to address an increasingly ageing population.

The new Life Sciences Vision received approval from some of the UK’s most prominent scientists, with Professor Bart De Strooper, Director of UK Dementia Research Institute, calling the strategy, “an ambitious plan of action demonstrating UK leadership in health sciences and is a huge motivator for the UK Dementia Research Institute.

“Seeing dementia top of the agenda is very promising as we take on this enormous challenge,”​ he comments.

“At the UK Dementia Research Institute, we are making discoveries at speed and our work fuels the pipeline to turn our knowledge into treatments.

“We look forward to working with the government, in alignment with this new strategy, to make these ideas a reality so together we can be a science superpower that saves lives.”

Larger industry role

Along with ageing and dementia, the government’s plan also covers cancer, mental health, obesity, respiratory disease and vaccines.

Building on the success of the vaccine rollout, the government’s focus will aim to create an ‘outstanding business environment for Life Science companies – in which incentives and structures are aligned to support company growth, innovation and investment.’

“We’re going to build a pro-enterprise environment where our life sciences firms can access the finance to grow, are incentivised to onshore manufacturing, and can commercialise breakthrough products right here in the UK – rather than elsewhere – as we cement the UK’s position as a science superpower,” ​says Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Biology (RSB) thought the ten-year vision provided a much-needed framework that would aid not just health but the economy too.

“Confirmation of the ongoing commitment to achieving collective expenditure of 2.4% of GDP on research is very welcome,” ​he comments.

“But, in achieving these goals, it will also be critical to recognise the breadth of science that contributes to health, including the whole of the biological sciences sector.

“Discovery research underpins our capability to understand and respond to challenges such as the current pandemic and should continue to be a core strand of UK funding alongside investment in technology and methods of application.”

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