A project led by the University of Edinburgh and global biotech company FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies UK (FDB) could make effective drugs more easily available to people with arthritis, a condition that is particularly common among the elderly.
Biological drugs, which bring together genetic material from a range of sources - a method known as recombinant DNA technology - have contributed to better treatment of life-limiting diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and haemophilia.
Researchers from Edinburgh, Manchester and York universities will work with FDB on a five-year, £8.7 million partnership to study and modify cells commonly used in biotechnology. The ultimate aim of the collaboration is to make biological drugs cheaper and easier to manufacture, meaning they could become more widely available to those who would benefit from them.
Elderly people are among the most likely to be severely affected by arthritis, often experiencing limitations in mobility that could lead to them requiring additional care and support with everyday tasks.
The University of Edinburgh has led the project with FDB since 2018. Further financial support for the research came from one of the nine Prosperity Partnerships announced by the government on April 2nd, which was funded by a £75 million investment from UK Research and Innovation, business and academia.
Susan Rosser, professor of synthetic biology at the university, said: "The award of this grant unlocks the power of new technologies we have developed and applies them to this key industry challenge.
"The aim is to better understand and improve one of the key cell-based manufacturing platforms of biopharmaceuticals. Ultimately it will mean that treatments and vaccines used by many millions of people worldwide will be easier and cheaper to manufacture."
Ongoing growth and innovation in biopharmaceuticals could lead to new treatments and help to improve quality of life for the more than ten million people in the UK with arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis - the second most common type of the disease after osteoarthritis - affects more than 400,000 people across the country. It is the result of the body's immune system targeting affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are treatment options that can help to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and prevent or slow down joint damage. Biologics are one of the two main types of treatments prescribed for this condition, along with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs.