New approach informed by government priorities, consultancy with industry and the NHS, and a century of expertise

London, UK, 26th September 2017 / Sciad NewswireNPL, the UK’s National Measurement Institute, will re-launch this month to help ensure the UK continues to lead the world in translating life sciences research, accelerating access to new diagnosis and treatment techniques, and helping to support rapid adoption of advanced healthcare technologies across the country. This new approach will see NPL focus on tackling some of the world’s biggest health challenges, from supporting the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and dementia, to reducing attrition rates in drug development, to creating new antibiotics.

Life sciences are a major component of the current economic base of the UK with the sector generating £64 billion of turnover, and employing more than 233,000 scientists and staff[1]. Yet there are challenges in this area. For example, the UK has one of the lowest age-standardised cancer incidence rates of rich countries, but one of the highest mortality rates; fewer UK citizens survive a diagnosis of cancer than they should. In addition, an ageing population is leading to a rise in chronic conditions, such as diabetes which make patients more susceptible to infections. While the NHS spends approximately £12bn a year on drug treatments in England alone[2], these are only effective in 30-60% of the population.

Good measurement is vital to addressing these issues, and improving patient outcomes. It enables better understanding of diseases and the effectiveness of new innovations to fight them, ensures accurate dosage and delivery of treatments, and helps pharmaceutical developers to ‘fail fast’ by spotting issues such as toxicity sooner.

For more than a century, NPL has maintained the UK’s measurement standards, and provided technologies and skills based on those standards for industry and the healthcare system. It currently provides the underpinning confidence in radiotherapy treatments across all UK treatment centres, to ensure accuracy and effectiveness of treatment while minimising side effects. In re-launching, NPL will expand its role in providing traceability of, and confidence in, new diagnostic tools, treatments, and medical technologies, to get them from the lab to patients more quickly, and to deliver increasingly personalised treatment.

The re-launch is in direct response to government policy, including the Accelerated Access Review and more recently the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy report, as well as extensive consultation with pharmaceutical companies, clinicians and equipment manufacturers. The re-launch sees NPL unveiling a number of new programmes and facilities to accelerate access to medical innovation:

  • Establishing a UK multi-modal mass spectrometry imaging facility to deliver world-beating imaging of tumours and to support chemical and biological imaging needs of biomedical researchers in industry and academia. The facility is the first of its kind in the UK, and will focus on more personalised diagnosis through better understanding of disease, more effective treatments of cancer (including by quantifying the extent of a tumour), and reducing time and costs in drug development (by identifying failing drug formulations earlier in the development process before expensive clinical trials).
  • Creating a new centre to accelerate medical imaging technologies through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The centre will support companies developing innovative imaging technologies to accelerate development and adoption of their products, with an initial focus on new medical imaging technologies. In the heavily regulated healthcare sector, robust and reliable measurements are an essential component of bringing new products to market, clinical trials and effective healthcare practices. Working closely with a broad range of stakeholders (large companies and SMEs in the medical equipment and pharmaceutical sectors, leading clinicians, academic groups and Innovate UK Catapults), NPL will ensure that the latest measurement techniques and best practice to assess, validate and commission innovative imaging technologies are developed and widely adopted.
  • Creating a new family of antibiotics to fight antimicrobial resistance (AMR). NPL is working to discover, screen and validate new classes of antimicrobials with Ingenza and the University of Plymouth, through an Innovate UK grant, to tackle AMR, a problem that some estimate could cause up to 10 million deaths each year by 2050[3]. The project will use a range of antimicrobials, called epidermicins, that naturally target superbugs like MRSA, and look to enhance the range of bacteria they can kill as well as the potency at which they can do this. The project will also look to scale up production of these antimicrobials for further testing and clinical trials, to accelerate their development. In addition to this project, NPL is working with University College London to convert a breast milk protein into an artificial virus that kills bacteria on contact.
  • Currently in development, a new medical device to improve diabetic life expectancy and quality of life, using thermal mapping (thermography), funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Diabetic foot ulceration (DFU) is a common complication in diabetes, and can often lead to amputation if untreated. 50% of patients die within 5 years of developing an ulcer[4] and ulceration is estimated to cost the NHS £1 billion per year[5]. NPL’s breakthrough medical imaging device, called DFIRST, uses temperature changes – identifiable before visible signs – which provide an early alert of problems and enable preventative action, reducing or even eliminating the ulceration and associated risk of infection. The technology is potentially suitable for home use, empowering patients in their own care and monitoring risk throughout their life.
  • Developing a new ultrasound imaging system for breast cancer diagnosis that has the potential to provide a standardised high quality image without the need for highly skilled operators that has the added advantage of being less uncomfortable, and lower cost, with no side effects. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with 62,000 women being diagnosed each year[6]. Current diagnosis relies on uncomfortable X-ray mammography, followed up by biopsy. Of all the lesions investigated, around 30% result in a malignant diagnosis meaning 70% of investigations are unnecessary. Conventional mammograms are less likely to detect breast cancer in younger or Asian populations, who have denser breast tissue. NPL is developing an ultrasound screening platform, currently undergoing clinical demonstration. This doesn’t use X-rays (so the patient isn’t exposed to radiation) and the screening is carried out with the breast submerged in warm water, without compression, which is a more comfortable experience for the patient. Its capability to better differentiate tissue properties should then ensure more accurate diagnosis.
  • NPL plays a key role in ensuring the safe and improved uptake of new radiotherapy techniques helping to ensure that new innovations in treatment provide the better patient outcomes that they promise. The UK has been slower to adopt new high energy proton beam therapy (PBT) than other countries; however, cutting edge technology is now being adopted across both NHS and private centres in the UK. Adopting it later than other countries means we have more work to do in ensuring its best use here. To help meet this challenge, NPL has established a physics research consortium with members from NHS centres and academia and is running regular workshops aimed at promoting research collaborations within the UK. NPL is also contributing to a code of practice that will be the world’s first written specifically for PBT based on a proton beam calibration. This will allow centres to calibrate their beams more accurately, so they know with more certainty how much radiation dose they are giving each patient, reducing side effects and increasing treatment effectiveness.
  • Harnessing big data to improve our understanding of epidemics. NPL is working with the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Research and Surveillance Centre (RCGP RSC) network to provide more accurate surveillance of diseases and epidemics in the UK, such as influenza. The network has been running for 50 years and uses patient records to identify incident rates – the system was vital in understanding and responding to the swine flu epidemic in 2009. Medical records are not always accurate, and NPL is bringing its data mining expertise to address this, helping to improve retrospective data to better identify trends, and assess the efficacy of treatments. NPL is also developing data standards, to ensure the integrity of data, to accelerate its use in critical applications like healthcare and drug development, and ease the integration of non-medical datasets, such as those from wearable devices, into a clinical setting.

Dr Michael Adeogun, Head of Life Sciences & Health at NPL, said: “We know from Cancer Research UK’s forecasts that half of us will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in our lifetime, and many more will be affected by the disease in other ways[7]. New advances are being developed every day to tackle this disease and other chronic conditions, but as incidence rates increase, there is more to be done to improve survival rates. At NPL, we are working to shape the future of healthcare, to get new and more effective diagnostic tools, treatments, and medical technologies to patients more quickly. Only through an established measurement infrastructure can we enable the consistent delivery of ‘world class’ cancer care across the NHS by 2020, accelerate the discovery and development of new therapies, and provide the confidence to adopt new personalised medicine techniques to deliver better patient outcomes and to reduce costs for the NHS.”

Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of NPL, said: “Many people are unaware of the scope, scale or quality of work that NPL delivers, or the part that it has played in some of the biggest discoveries in modern history. The effects of the science, technology and engineering that NPL delivers are felt by everyone, everywhere. After a century as the silent partner to industry, we are proud to re-launch NPL, to ensure it can further accelerate UK industry and deliver extraordinary impact on our economy and quality of life for many years to come.”

Alongside Life Sciences & Health, NPL is also focusing its activity in three other areas: Advanced Manufacturing, Digital, and Energy & Environment.


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Notes to Editors

About NPL
NPL is the UK’s National Measurement Institute, providing the measurement capability that underpins the UK’s prosperity and quality of life.

From new antibiotics to tackle resistance and more effective cancer treatments, to unhackable quantum communications and superfast 5G, technological advances must be built on a foundation of reliable measurement to succeed. Building on over a century’s worth of expertise, our science, engineering and technology provides this foundation and helps to make the impossible possible. We save lives, protect the environment and enable citizens to feel safe and secure, as well as support international trade and commercial innovation. As a national laboratory, our advice is always impartial and independent, meaning consumers, investors, policymakers and entrepreneurs can always rely on the work we do.

Based in Teddington, south-west London, NPL employs over 500 scientists and is home to 388 of the world’s most extensive and sophisticated laboratories. NPL also has regional bases across the UK, including at the University of Surrey, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Cambridge and the University of Huddersfield’s 3M Buckley Innovation Centre.

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[1] HM government, Strength and Opportunity 2016: The landscape of the medical technology and biopharmaceutical sectors in the UK
[2] Improving Outcomes Through Personalised Medicine (NHS England, September 2016)

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