QUB leading £7m collab to improve cancer outcomes

  • Queen’s University Belfast is leading a collaborative consortium with two global tech firms to improve the outcomes of early-stage cancer patients.

    Combined with the world’s largest biotech company Roche and artificial intelligence (AI) specialist Sonrai Analytics, the ACTIONED consortium aims to transform the future treatment of colorectal cancer patients worldwide.

    Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. Current treatment for early-stage patients usually involves surgical removal of the tumour frequently followed by chemotherapy.

    Queen’s said it is currently difficult to assess whether the surgery has been successful and therefore a large proportion of patients are routinely treated further with chemotherapy, with a risk of consequent severe side effects.

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    Prof David Gonzalez de Castro, co-director of the university’s Precision Medicine Centre of Excellence (PMC) said: “Developing integrated diagnostic tools for early detection of recurrence could help preventing patients from receiving unnecessary toxic chemotherapy and improve their quality of life, while saving precious resources in our healthcare systems to be invested in further improving early detection.”

    The ACTIONED consortium will bring together numerous specialists to drive a holistic analysis of tissue and plasma samples using modern genomics and digital pathology methodologies in an integrated precision medicine laboratory.

    Its total value is over £7m. Innovate UK, part of the UK Research and Innovation organization, has invested almost £3m over the three-year programme as government funding provided through UK Research and Innovation’s industrial strategy challenge fund.

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    Roche Diagnostics Ltd is said to be contributing over £4 and Somnrai Analytics almost £200,000.

    Sonrai Analytics is itself a spin-out company of Queen’s University and develops artificial intelligence algorithms through big-data collection to improve personalised medicine. The firm recently closed a £700,000 funding round to help towards this.

    Darragh McArt, its CEO added: “The PMC at Queen’s is a leading example of modern day integrated healthcare and we hope that Sonrai can align within this programme to help understand the indications for the best treatment to be given to the right patient.”

    Sonrai recently closed a £700,000 funding round to help towards delivering healthcare through big-data analysis.

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    Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis said: "It is fantastic that ACTIONED, led by Northern Ireland's world-leading Queen's University Belfast, has been awarded almost £3 million to help their work in developing AI to detect cancer earlier and aid more accurate diagnoses. So many of us know people who have been affected by cancer and this innovative project could help save countless lives.

    “The UK Government's backing of the project reflects our commitment to support the work of our brilliant scientists across all four nations of the UK in their potentially life-changing research and development endeavours.”

    The PMC was offered £5.8m of support by Invest NI in 2017 when it first launched.

    The economic growth agency’s CEO Kevin Holland said: “… our ambition was to further enhance the personalised medicine and oncology research sector in Northern Ireland and support the growth of the precision medicine industry here.”

    He added that the collaboration with Roche and Sonrai “is an excellent endorsement of the hard work and ground-breaking developments taking place.”

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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