Regenerative medicine encapsulates a wide range of technologies and applications for the benefit of human health. According to the United Kingdom’s (UK) Technology Strategy Board (TSB), “Regenerative medicine is a broad term for innovative medical therapies that aim to replace or regenerate human cells, tissues or organs, to restore or establish normal function. It is not a single technology but a multidisciplinary approach, which can bring together
tissue engineering, developmental and stem cell biology, gene therapy, cellular therapeutics, biomaterials (scaffolds and matrices), nanotechnology, bioengineering and chemical biology”. The UKTI Life Science Investment Organisation (LSIO) claims that regenerative medicine products surpassed $1 billion revenue in 2012 and are expected to grow to over $35 billion by 2019. According to the Medical Research Council, “Regenerative medicine is an emerging discipline that holds the promise of revolutionising patient care in the 21st century. The UK is a leading player globally in the science that underpins regenerative medicine.”
UK strengths in regenerative medicine include a world-leading research base, a unified healthcare system providing access to large numbers of patients and a highly organised blood transfusion and transplant service. The UK is also at the forefront of much of the underpinning science in this area and regenerative medicine has been recognised by the Government as one of ‘eight great future technologies’ in which the UK can be world-leading. The TSB identifies regenerative medicine as an important area of investment focus in 2008. An initial £8m commitment in 2009 leveraged an additional £10m of Government Strategic Investment, along with support from the Research Councils for development of a £21m programme for companies developing regenerative medicine and cell therapies during 2009-12.
The Welsh University sector conducts world-leading research in the area of regenerative medicine. This is recognised by prestigious funding awards, for example, the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre at Cardiff University and the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform’s “Disease/Systems focused award” at Swansea University. A major anchor company operating within the regenerative medicine field in Wales is GE Healthcare, located on a 30-acre site in Cardiff. It is involved in delivering breakthroughs in R&D and in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Wales also hosts a series of SMEs focussed on cellular therapies, wound healing products and artificial tissues and organs. Lastly, Wales boasts a range of support institutions, including, but not limited to the Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER), Great Western Alliance (GW4) and MediWales. These groups provide key guidance to and act as a voice for the regenerative medicine sector in Wales.
Although Wales accounts for nearly 5% of the United Kingdom’s (UK) population, the data from the UK Research Council & TSB’s A Strategy for UK Regenerative Medicine (2012) state that Wales accounts for only 3% of the grant funding from UK Research Councils and TSB. Significant support will be required to grow the existing Welsh regenerative medicine sector and capture external opportunities. To show its support of regenerative medicine sector, on
1 April 2014, Welsh Government announced it was allocating up to £500,000 to support the TSB’s funding competition for R&D projects designed to advance regenerative medicine and cell therapies. Economy Minister Edwina Hart stated, “Life sciences is one of our priority economic sectors and regenerative medicine is fast becoming an emerging area for Wales thanks to the presence of some world class researchers.”
Current strengths and activities in the regenerative medicine sector have high potential to deliver impact and growth. These will lead to new clinical therapeutic strategies and health delivery; new products and commercialisation opportunities, but also feedback as part of a virtuous circle to support and grow our capacity to deliver world-leading research excellence. The Life Science Exchange Regenerative Medicine Focus Group proposes five areas of high
potential where the Welsh regenerative medicine sector could excel in basic research, clinical translation and commercialisation.
1. REGENERATIVE MEDICINE SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP
The Life Science Exchange has identified a key opportunity in the regenerative medicine sector to improve on leadership, organisation, information dissemination, communication, interaction, and collaboration Wales-wide. It is proposed that a Welsh Regenerative Medicine Special Interest Group (RMSIG) be formed, tasked to coordinate strategic capacity building, support integration across University, NHS and Industrial sectors within the region and promote Welsh regenerative medicine on the global stage.
2. SECTOR KNOWLEDGE AND COMMUNICATION
Stakeholders have shared concerns regarding a lack of sector knowledge throughout each of the Focus Groups. Generally, there is a need from all stakeholders for a global view of the resources, infrastructure, activities, events, products and services that exist across the sector. In order to make the information about the Welsh regenerative medicine sector clear to stakeholders, (all) information relevant to the sector should be available through one initiative rather than several.
3. NHS ENGAGEMENT AND CLINICAL ACCESS
A major stepping stone in the drug development process is engaging with lead clinicians to guide regenerative medicine research and development, especially when executing regulated clinical trials. Steps need to be taken to incentivise and promote clinical research at institution and individual levels. Support for Health Research Wales, clinician research time and research facilities is required to leverage the strengths of the Welsh regenerative
4. ENHANCED RESEARCH CAPACITY
Wales has world-leading regenerative medicine research developing within academia and industry. Nonetheless, there is not always a clear idea of the route to commercialising a product or service. Translation of regenerative medicine-related academic research into commercial products in Wales requires greater support for collaborative research facilities, information (see Sector knowledge and communication, above) and commercial incentives.
5. INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES
Wales has considerable strengths in the regenerative medicine sector. This is a key enabler for regenerative medicine across the University, NHS and industry sectors and has the basis for strong therapeutics. Unified support to market these strengths internationally is required to grow the sector.