Zika virus vaccine to be developed in Manchester

A University of Manchester team is to develop a new vaccine against the Zika virus as part of a new initiative to counter the disease which has spread rapidly across the Americas in the last few months.

The team will create and test a vaccine based on a safe derivative of a pre-existing smallpox vaccine – the only disease to have been successfully globally eradicated.

Dr Tom Blanchard, Honorary Senior Lecturer at The University of Manchester and Fellow of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Consultant in Infectious Diseases at North Manchester General Hospital and the Royal Liverpool Hospital will lead the project. Professor Pam Vallely and Dr Eddie McKenzieare University of Manchester experts involved in the project and the work will be done in collaboration with Professors Miles Carrol and Roger Hewson from Public Health England.

Dr Blanchard said:

“As we have seen in the case of Ebola there is now a real need to react quickly to fast spreading tropical diseases. Zika can cause serious illness, but it often has no visible symptoms, so a vaccine for those at risk is one of the most effective ways we have of combatting it.”

Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 and the disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes, though there have been reports of human to human transmission. It is particularly serious for pregnant women, as it’s been linked to birth defects – in particular, microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s brain doesn’t grow properly and it is born with an abnormally small head and serious development problems.

A recent and particularly severe outbreak which began in South America and has since spread north to United States Territories prompted the Medical Research Council, The Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund to launch a £4m rapid response funding initiative at the beginning of February.

The results of this call for proposals have been announced today and Dr Blanchard and his team were awarded £177,713 to build and test a vaccine as part of this.

It is expected that the results will be delivered within 18 months and although the first target will be the Zika virus, the nature of the vaccine candidate may enable it to combat many infectious diseases simultaneously.

Dr Blanchard added:

“We know that there’s an urgent need for this vaccine but we’ll be working carefully to deliver a product which is safe and effective and which can be quickly deployed to those who need it.

If we can also use this vaccine on multiple targets then this will represent an exciting step forward in dealing with these kinds of outbreaks.”

 

Student awarded SCI Scholarship

We are delighted to announce that The Faculty of Life Science’s very own James Adams, has been awarded a SCI scholarship of £5,000 to support his studies into the development of selective Phosphatase inhibitors.

SCI Scholarships are more than just financial, he will also benefit from publishing opportunities, access to a high-calibre network to help launch his career, and opportunities to present his work and raise his profile within the scientific community.

James Adam said:

“I am working on a challenging but inspirational research project that is truly multidisciplinary. This research involves the development of effective bioactive tools to dissect fundamental signalling pathways in particular those involving Phosphatases.

The funding and support offered by my SCI Scholarship will provide a valuable resource to help me pursue my studies.”

Cobra Biologics and The University of Manchester Announce Collaboration to Improve Industrial Scale-up

It has been announced that a two year collaboration between The University of Manchester and Cobra Biologics is to take place.

The partnership is focused on improving understanding of cellular bio-processing which is required for the scaled production of therapeutic proteins. The collaboration is supported via the FLexible Interchange Programme (FLIP) Scheme from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The partnership aims to produce better predictability in the production of bio-pharmaceuticals which can be used in treatments for diseases like cancer and inflammation.

The agreement will enable the exchange of knowledge, technology and skills and will allow Cobra access to the University’s internationally renowned academic and associated research group. Professor Dickson will benefit from Cobra’s production data and significant operational knowledge of industrial manufacturing processes.

Dr Daniel Smith, CSO Cobra Biologics, said:

This is an exciting and unique opportunity for Cobra Biologics to gain scientific and technological insights from one of the senior UK academics working in the bioprocessing area.
“In addition, Professor Dickson has links and collaborations with UK and international academics, addressing all aspects of production of biopharmaceuticals.
“The insights of Professor Dickson into the various processes and tools used, combined with historical data case studies undertaken by Cobra Biologics, will allow better definition and enhancement of our current manufacturing processes and to build towards the idealised platforms and processes for future manufacture of innovator and biosimilar molecules.

Professor Alan Dickson, The University of Manchester, commented:

For an academic, FLIP support offers a tremendous opportunity to place the intellectual driver of research in the context of commercial perspectives.

In working with colleagues at Cobra Biologics over the next two years, we hope to develop predictive visions for choice, manipulation and decision-making in manufacturing processes. The collaboration will offer long-term benefits for the University of Manchester, Cobra Biologics and, consequently, for the biopharmaceuticals sector in the North West of England.

This is a true exchange of vision across the industrial/academic interface, in which both partners will learn from each other’s perspectives, with learnings that will be translated to subsequent research projects and commercial activities.

Minister in Manchester to announce £40 million funding boost

Vince Cable MP speaking to Professors Perdita Barran and Bob KellBusiness Secretary Dr Vince Cable has visited the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) to meet scientists working on synthetic biology. This follows the announcement of £40million funding into this cutting-edge research area, £32 million of which is being split across new research centres in Manchester, Edinburgh, and Warwick.

The investment comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC), as well as via capital investment from the UK government. Funds will be awarded over a five-year period, boosting national research capacity and ensuring that the expertise to nurture this growing industry exists in the UK.

The MIB will receive £10.3million to establish the Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM). This centre will develop new products and methods for drug discovery and production, agricultural chemicals, and new materials for sustainable manufacturing. Professor Nigel Scrutton, Co-Director of SYNBIOCHEM, said:

“Our vision is to harness the power of synthetic biology to propel chemicals and natural products production towards ’green’ and sustainable manufacturing processes. More broadly, the Centre will provide the general tools, technology platforms, and ‘know-how’ to drive academic discovery and translate new knowledge and processes towards industrial exploitation.”

Synthetic biology is a new scientific method that applies engineering principles to biology to create new biological parts, devices, and systems. It has been used to generate biological ‘factories’ producing useful products such as medicines, chemicals, green energy, and tools for improving crops. It has been identified by the government as one of ‘Eight Great Technologies’ in which Great Britain can be a world leader. Fellow Co-Director, Professor Eriko Takano, added:

“Synthetic biology is an emerging science that has the capacity to transform the UK and European industrial landscape. It will revolutionise manufacturing processes to deliver renewable and sustainable materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals, and energy that will impact significantly on our economic, social, and environmental landscape. It promises a brighter future for all.”

Business Secretary Dr Cable discussed the funding:

“From materials for advanced manufacturing to developing new antibiotics and better tests for diseases, this new £40million investment is in one of the most promising areas of modern science. It will see our world class researchers using bacteria to produce chemicals to make everyday products like toothbrushes and credit cards, which are currently made from unsustainable fossil fuels.  Not only will this help improve people’s everyday lives in the future but it will support long-term economic growth.”

Funding for new ‘Manchester Single Cell Research Centre’

The University has secured funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) for a new Manchester Single Cell Research Centre (SCRC). A Single CellThe £5 million award application was led by Faculty scientist Professor Cay Kielty in collaboration with colleagues from FLS and the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences.

Researchers in the SCRC will focus on characterising a group of rare cells called circulating tumour cells (CTCs), which give rise to drug-resistant cancers. They will also be working on specific stem cells that can enable the regeneration of damaged tissues such as muscle, joints, skin, and blood vessels. Professor Kielty says:

“This new technology will enable us to define cell heterogeneity and the biology of rare cells in health and disease.”