Life sciences innovation centre set for Sheffield as part of £18m network

A new gene therapy innovation centre at the University of Sheffield is set to advance scientific discoveries into promising treatment options for millions of patients with life-threatening diseases.

The Gene Therapy Innovation and Manufacturing Centre (GTIMC), led by Professor Mimoun Azzouz, is one of three pioneering hubs announced in a new £18m network funded by LifeArc and the Medical Research Council (MRC), with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Gene therapy is a promising option for more than 7,000 rare diseases that currently have no cure.

It aims to treat these conditions, by engineering another gene to replace, silence or manipulate the faulty one.

Professor Azzouz, director of the GTIMC and chair of Translational Neuroscience at University of Sheffield, said: “The Gene Therapy Innovation and Manufacturing Centre will tackle major challenges in gene therapy development for some of the most devastating diseases.

“Gene therapies are pioneering medical advances that have the potential to offer much-needed, novel, effective treatments for many rare and incurable diseases that cannot be treated by conventional drug compounds.

“This is a momentous milestone for revolutionary medical advances not only for Sheffield and South Yorkshire, but also for the UK.”

Professor Dame Pam Shaw, director of the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre and co-applicant on the GTIMC application, said: “This exciting development will speed up the pull through of new gene therapies into early phase clinical trials and offer hope to patients with neurological and other rare diseases that can be addressed in this way.

“The support given to this initiative will greatly accelerate the translational potential of genetic therapies in the UK and bring benefits in key areas of unmet medical need.”

The centre will bring together academic institutions, NHS trusts, non-profit and industry partners across the north of England, Midlands and Wales enabling academic-led clinical trials of novel gene therapies.

It will deliver essential translational and regulatory support alongside extensive training and skills programmes, to enable upskilling and address shortage of skills in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) manufacturing.

Professor Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “We’re delighted our university is at the forefront of research in this pioneering field of medicine and that this centre will build on our reputation as an international centre of excellence for gene therapeutics.

“This is fantastic news for the City Region and the North of England and we look forward to working collaboratively to share technical skills and resources across the coordinated network.”

Alongside the national network funding from LifeArc, the MRC and BBSRC, the GTIMC was made possible thanks to a £3m donation from The Law Family Charitable Foundation, established by Andrew Law and his wife Zoë.

This funding was part of a record £5m donation from University of Sheffield alumnus, which will also see the launch of a new student support programme.

The GTIMC is planned for a site on the university’s Innovation District, close to existing translational research facilities and will contribute to an ongoing programme of regional investment and regeneration.

It will include a GMP (good manufacturing practice) facility that will support gene therapy projects emerging from universities across the UK.

The three national hubs – located at the University of Sheffield, Kings College London, and NHS Blood and Transplant in Bristol – will operate as a coordinated network, sharing technical skills and resources to enable innovative gene therapy research.