Browse Catapults

Innovative treatments for a longer healthy, independent life

Figures show that we are spending more of our lives in poor health. In response, a national network is bringing together scientific expertise from across the UK to shed new light on the ageing process and help us stay healthy for longer.

Number of people over 75 in the UK will be one in seven by 2040

An extra five years of healthy, independent life target by 2035

This initiative combines the academic endeavour and industrial rigour necessary to prove new R&D concepts – and make the new medicines – that global industry can adopt and which will revolutionise the treatment of diseases of tissue ageing.

Professor Chris Molloy
Chief Executive of the Medicines Discovery Catapult

UK SPINE: Healthy ageing programme sets sights on improving quality of life in later years

The Government-funded UK SPINE initiative has been set up to focus on the country’s ageing population, investigating the complex pathways behind ageing and ensuring we can find new therapies to delay the onset of diseases that reduce our quality of life in later years.

The number of people over 75 in the UK today is one in 12, according to government statistics. By 2040, that figure is projected to rise to one in seven – with implications including increased demand on health and care services. Meanwhile, Public Health England’s Health Profile for England 2019 report found that, on average, people in England will live between a fifth and a quarter of their lives in poor health. In other words, our ‘healthspans’ are not keeping up with our lifespans. The UK government has therefore set the challenge of ensuring people can enjoy an extra five years of healthy, independent life by 2035.

UK SPINE brings together multi-disciplinary expertise from a range of Higher Education Institutions, industries and charities, together with strong NHS partnerships overseeing a series of nationwide flagship research projects focusing on different aspects of ageing, with work now restarting in many settings following the coronavirus lockdown.

The first flagship project under UK SPINE to be launched is spearheaded by Medicines Discovery Catapult and the University of Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit, alongside the University of Oxford and University of Birmingham. It will establish a new drug discovery model designed to speed up the development of innovative treatments for ageing and its associated diseases and will result in a functioning and successful ageing therapeutic development pipeline that enhances and knits together the UK’s capabilities in this emerging area.

The ‘porous’ model design means organisations such as university research teams or pharmaceutical companies will be able to enter the pipeline quickly and easily at different points, making the process more collaborative and reducing financial risk for industry in particular.

This new ‘porous’ pipeline will encourage participation in ageing-related pharmaceutical discovery and make it more efficient – from identifying targets for new drugs that lie in the common underlying pathways of ageing, to deploying treatments clinically.

The emphasis will be on developing treatments aimed at tackling multimorbidities (multiple co-occurring conditions) in an effort to improve quality of life and reduce polypharmacy (the use of multiple medications concurrently).

Academic discovery science and innovation often fails to meet its full potential for positive health impacts and economic development. That which is ‘too early, too risky’ for industry and venture capital needs to be efficiently de-risked through collaboration and cooperation. The aim is to serve up investment-ready opportunities that will benefit all of society.

Professor Sir Mike Ferguson
Co-founder and Director of the Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee