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Science Trends in 2019

Back in January 2018, we made some bold predictions on what we thought would happen in the world of science and clinical. To catch up with our initial predictions, read the original post by clicking this link

2018 turned out to be a tumultuous year. But whilst the rest of the world was debating politics, social media, and technology, in science and clinical we saw some pretty big breakthroughs — though we also had our own controversy in the world of genetic engineering.

In 2018, we predicted 5 science trends for the year. In this article, we’re going to recap to see how accurate we were. We’ll also explore what we’re likely to see in these areas in 2019. And to finish off with a bang, we make some new predictions for science trends in 2019. Read on to find out more…

1. 3D Printing in Healthcare

Custom prosthetics that grow with the patient. Printed living cells. Individually tailored doses of bespoke medication. Only a few years ago, these would have been too costly or complex. With the advent of 3D printing, however, such advances in healthcare are not only possible but are already being implemented.

3D printing has multiple applications in the personalised medicines space, from printed tablets to inhalers. FabRx, founded by academics from University College London, specialises in 3D printed medicines. Their Printlets technology enables precise doses to be printed, on-demand medication for hospitals and pharmacies, and can combine multiple drugs into one dose.

Although still at an early stage, the big industry players see the potential of 3D printing and are investing heavily. Malvern Panalytical, GlaxoSmithKline and Syngenta are all backing the design and development of 3D printed formulations at the Centre for Additive Manufacturing. To ensure the supply chain is in place to get 3D printed products into the clinic and market, the Northern Powerhouse is set to welcome a new 3D printing centre, to be known as the Cheshire 3D Print Hub (C3D).

In May this year, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust became the first in the world to use 3D printed models to prepare for an organ transplant. The team used CT scans to build 3D models of a 2-year-old boys’ abdomen and his father’s kidney, allowing surgeons to ensure that the transplant was feasible. The surgery was a resounding success and paves the way for 3D printing to enable surgeons to plan and practice procedures before making a single incision.

The UK Regenerative Medicine Platform has also begun exploring ways to use 3D printed tissue approaches to treat and repair eye, liver and musculoskeletal damage. The printed tissue “scaffolds” can also be used to deliver drugs straight to the target organ.

It should be no surprise that the 3D printing healthcare market is forecast to reach ~ $2 Billion by 2022.

To find out more about 3D printed medicine, read our deep dive here:

2. E-Health and E-Healthcare to finally fulfill their potential

We live in a truly digital age, with healthcare being no exception. Whether it is connecting, monitoring or gamifying health, apps are becoming “healthcare in your pocket”.

Healthcare providers are also getting on board with digital trends, too. In July, the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock pledged £412m to increase “digitisation” within the NHS, with an extra £75m for trusts to upgrade from paper to electronic systems, including e-prescribing. There are also ongoing initiatives such as the Scan4Safety barcode programme, which is exploring the benefits of the implementation of barcodes across the NHS and the Royal College of Nurses’ “Every nurse an e-nurse” campaign, which aims to improve nurses’ digital literacy through training. 

Artificial intelligence, or AI, in healthcare, has received significant attention over the last few years, and rightfully so. Using algorithms and machine learning has the potential to predict new therapies and connect patients with practitioners.

In May, the Prime Minister challenged the NHS to use AI to detect cancer at much earlier stages. More than 160,000 people die from cancer in the UK each year, accounting for one in four of all UK deaths. AI could reduce that figure by ~10% a year by 2033 and allow early diagnosis and, most importantly, treatment for at least 50,000 people with prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer.

AI will be used to cross-reference people’s genetics, lifestyle habits and medical records with national data to diagnose cancer more quickly and accurately. Although cancer is the initial focus, AI also has the potential to help predict and manage a range of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.

There are still major concerns about data security. Recently, the developers of the Streams app, used to send patient alerts to clinical staff, came under fire for gathering data on 1.6 million patients without permission and then joining Google, a move described as “trust demolition”.

If we really are going to use data and technology to live longer, healthier lives, the organisations who collect and use data need to do more to protect it.

That’s where blockchain can help…

Discover more about the gamification of healthcare here:

3. Fake Meat and Lab-Grown Meat: Here to Save the Planet

“Cultured meat” is being touted as a possible solution to global food shortages, the environmental impact of traditional meat consumption and animal rights issues.

What is cultured meat? It can either be fake meat derived from plant material, making it suitable for vegetarians or derived and growth from animal cells. Impossible Foods, for instance, use wheat and potato protein plus the key ingredient, heme, a component of haemoglobin which gives a “meaty” flavour, to produce their Impossible Burgers. New Age Meats make their sausages from pig cells, and similarly, Higher Steaks are looking to adopt the method to produce steak and even chicken breasts in the future. The benefit of this technique is that only one cell biopsy is required, the animal is not harmed in the process and the cells can be cultured indefinitely.

It has the potential to greatly reduce the environmental impact of meat production, but is there much consumer appetite for this “fake” meat, for both meat eaters and non-meat eaters? A survey by the Vegetarian Society stated 72% of respondents still wouldn’t eat lab-grown meat, regardless of the methodology. Michigan State University’s Food Literacy and Engagement Poll asked over 2,100 people if they would consider buying cultured meat, with just a third saying they would. What was more encouraging, however, was that this number rose to 51% amongst the 18-29 age group, and to 60% amongst 30- to 39-year-olds, suggesting the younger demographic is more open-minded to the idea.

As well as being more ethical, cultured meat is also starting to gain commercial traction. Heavyweights like Tyson Foods, the USA’s largest meat supplier, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are currently investing in companies like plant-based Beyond Meat (which has just filed to launch on the stock market) and cell-based Memphis Meats.

With the manufacturing costs of cultured meat now starting to come down to commercially viable levels, its appearance in supermarkets is looking likely: the FDA and US Department of Agriculture jointly announced recently that they would be overseeing the production process. In fact, the plant-based Impossible Burger is already available in restaurants across the USA and Hong Kong. If trends continue, then fake meat could well be a real alternative.

Want to find out more about the world of fake meat? Click here to find out more:

4. Biosimilars: To Hype or Not to Hype

2018 has seen the beginning of the biosimilars boom. These are products which are almost identical to approved biological medicines and can be manufactured once the original product's patent expires. This makes them much more cost-effective: in fact, the NHS could save up to £300 million/year by using biosimilar alternatives where possible, treating conditions from cancer to diabetes more economically.

Globally, Europe has been leading the way in the biosimilars market, where they have been available since 2006. In comparison, the USA did not approve its first similar until 2015, lagging behind Europe in terms of approved biosimilars on the market by some margin (>45 versus 12). However, as patents in the US increasingly expire, those numbers could change. Currently, there are 12 biologics that have expired patents or are nearing expiry in the US, which have biosimilars in the regulatory pipeline. The launch of the FDA’s biosimilars action plan in July this year aims to provide increased regulatory clarity to manufacturers.

In the UK, meanwhile, the biosimilars boom continues to make serious cost savings. The recently-expired patent on the world’s biggest selling drug Humira will save the NHS £150 million a year by switching to the biosimilar version from December 2018.

This year, the EU has also approved biosimilars for diseases including breast, colon and lung cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis; and many more are in the pipeline. With the pace of biosimilars showing no signs of slowing, we have entered an exciting time for biological drugs and health economics.

Read more about Biosimilars on our blog:

5. Blockchain Technology in Healthcare

As the world becomes increasingly digital, sensitive patient data are routinely being stored virtually and paper records are becoming a thing of the past. With advances in technology comes greater data safety concerns, however, and blockchain may be the solution.

Blockchain creates unchangeable data records which are shared peer to peer between networked database systems. This allows blockchain to safeguard against data corruption as the information is not stored in a single location, which is especially important when dealing with highly sensitive healthcare records. Blockchain not only has potential applications in securing healthcare data (from clinical trials to personal medical records), but also in tracking drugs and devices, managing and securing supply chains and preventing the sale of counterfeits.

In the US, the MediLedger Project launched in Oct this year. The blockchain-enabled network provides a secure, decentralised pharmaceutical supply chain and is backed by major Pharma companies including Genentech, Gilead, and Pfizer.

The NHS also starting to take an interest: blockchain-powered from UK start-up Medicalchain is currently being piloted in London, enabling users to consult a doctor remotely for a small fee, giving extra flexibility in how and where patients receive medical advice. Meanwhile, diabetic patients have been trialling Patients Know Best, the world’s first patient-controlled medical record. Users can manage their care from home using blood sugar, blood pressure and weight monitoring smart devices, as well as contacting healthcare providers remotely and sharing their care plans with other local professionals.

This year, the EU launched its Blockchain Enabled Healthcare Program. The 18 million program will generate consortia of pharma companies, blockchain SMEs, academics, clinicians and patients tackling data problems across the healthcare spectrum. AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Sanofi are among the big pharma applicants for the program. The winners will be announced in January 2019 so the blockchain momentum is sure to continue.

Emerging science trends in 2019

A number of other science trends have emerged in 2018, and are likely to develop in 2019. Three, in particular, are worth highlighting: the rise of self-diagnosis, developments in cell and gene therapy, and the future of science funding.

1. Self-Diagnosis

With personalised medicine on the increase, healthcare is becoming increasingly tailored to the individual. Now consumers are taking control of their own diagnosis too.

Direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits are on the rise, widely available for less than £100 and promise to reveal the user’s genealogy, ancestry, genetic health, carrier status, and traits, amongst others. Companies such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and Thriva offer a comprehensive genetic profile whilst DNAFit uses that information to tailor diet and fitness programmes, even using existing results from other DNA testing providers to do so.

DNA home testing kits provide information about the user’s genetic profile and history, including early detection of certain disorders. This allows the user to seek medical advice or make decisions regarding their lifestyle, health or even family planning. However, there is a risk that conditions could be misdiagnosed. Even if the diagnosis is correct, this could increase health insurance premiums and there could be health implications for the user and even their family.

Are direct-to-consumer genetic tests empowering or just worrying patients? Time will tell.

2. Cell and Gene Therapy

What a year it has been for cell and gene therapy! In August, the EC approved Kymriah, a CAR-T leukaemia therapy, and the first patients began treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital at the end of November, the same month that the EC also approved the use of Luxturna, a gene therapy sight loss treatment. Meanwhile, the first European CRISPR clinical trial for sickle cell anaemia began recruiting in November, with a similar trial being given FDA approval to proceed in the US.

Public and private investment has flowed into the area with companies like Freeline Therapeutics raising £88 million, and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult receiving >£85 million to the UKs increase manufacturing capacity, skills base and links to clinics. Coupled with the formation of Advanced Therapy Treatment Centres, this makes the UK the most integrated cell and gene therapy ecosystem in the world.

3. Science Funding

UK science funding has hit the headlines this year, as uncertainty regarding Brexit continues. As the EU-funded Horizon 2020 scheme comes to an end, it will be replaced by Horizon Europe, a planned 7-year scientific research initiative. The draft plan for this scheme aims to raise EU science spending to €100bn, €3.6 bn of which will be earmarked for an umbrella investment fund called InvestEU.

UK organisations can still apply for Horizon 2020 projects (with UK Government guaranteeing funding) and they can take part in Horizon Europe regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations. To underpin research and innovation, the UK Government has pledged to commit a further £2.3bn to science from 2021, the aim being to boost spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. As part of this investment, another £1.1bn has been added to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The 2nd Life Science Sector Deal was also announced in early Dec. The deal confirmed that UCB is investing £1 billion in research and development in the UK, including in a new state-of-the-art facility. The deal is backed by £79 million of public funding earmarked to study 5 million healthy people and develop diagnostic tests using AI. 

For more fascinating insights into the ever-changing world of the life sciences sector, stay tuned to all SRG Blogs.

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