PiR Breakfast Briefing: Personalised Medicine with Dr Darrin Disley

Darrin_Disley_170117We were delighted to host senior representatives from the life sciences community, together with the industry trade press, at our CEO Breakfast Forum, which took place at the Chesterford Research Park, Cambridge, United Kingdom today.

The speaker, Dr Darrin M Disley is a parallel entrepreneur, investor and enterprise champion who has started, grown and raised over $320m for 15 businesses and invested in over 40 others. This includes Horizon Discovery Group plc where he is CEO, a company that provides products, services and research programs to organisations involved in genomics research and the development of personalised medicines and cell and gene therapies.

In his address, Disley provided his vision of the future healthcare paradigm as the population ages. He explained how multidisciplinary science and academic-industry partnerships need to work together, using open innovation models within an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can take advantage of the current favourable R&D, tax, regulatory and investment framework.

Personalised Medicine

The challenges and opportunities facing the industry today surround the handling of big data, sustainable energy and resource creation/allocation and the delivery of affordable healthcare to an ageing population. The key to ensuring that we age healthily and remain productive, involves the move towards a ‘cradle to the grave’ healthcare paradigm. This combines early diagnosis, targeted molecular therapeutics and companion diagnostic tests that match the right drug(s) to the right patient at the right time. Gene and cell therapies would be targeted at an individual patient’s disease.

The reasons for moving towards personalised medicine, are, quite simply, the poor patient outcomes achieved for the investment made. The underlying genetic variations in a population force about two thirds of selected drugs towards attrition. In heart and psychological diseases, it is often necessary to screen at least four drugs per patient before finding one that works effectively and this leads to an estimated $150 billion annual financial loss due to Adverse Drug Reactions in the US/EU healthcare industries.

Personalised medicine is being driven by a convergence of technology to solve the efficacy and productivity deficit. Genome sequencing has reduced from $10m in 2007 to less than $1,000 today. A multi-disciplinary approach to R&D has been the key to this success: biology (nucleic polymerisation), chemistry (fluorophores, conjugation), computer science (data handling), engineering (MEMS and robotics), physics (lasers, CCD imaging) and radio astronomy (data processing). Empowered by knowledge of the genetic, environmental and behavioural contributors to disease, we are moving towards the creation of networks of patients, drugs and treatment regimens that result in the right drugs being given to the right patients at the right time – and in the right doses.

Exciting Developments in the Golden Triangle

Disley was incredibly enthusiastic about the advances being made in the golden triangle of Cambridge, London and Oxford – thanks to the collaborative efforts of commercial organisations, as well as academic and healthcare institutions. Working together, these organisations are advancing knowledge of the genetic basis of disease, drug targets and patient response and the link between genomic data, the new pharmacopoeia and an evolutionary patient diagnosis and prognosis. He believes small start-ups often have the most innovative ideas and need to be supported, even if their profiles do not fit traditional funding or government models. He said that start-ups would at times tackle more challenging projects, not just what he referred to as “low hanging fruit”.

Asked about the role of people as the industry moves towards personalised medicine. Disley was very forthright: “Finding the right people is essential. You cannot just focus on the top 20%. Most businesses fail because people are unaligned and the role of a CEO is to manage investors, people and the strategy.” He said that young people are more flexible than the previous generation, wanting the opportunity to move between academia and industry to develop their skills and ideas. He also felt that entrepreneurial ideas are essential and need to be aligned with customer needs. Disley said he found it fascinating to see how young, energetic companies are the engines behind explosive change in the market. His message was “support people with ideas, even if their ideas are not fully defined” and he talked about “patient capital” – the need to invest without expecting to turn a quick profit – which is just as important as “passion capital”.

Innovation at Horizon Group plc

Horizon co-founders Professor Alberto Bardelli (current President of the European AACR) and Dr Chris Torrance (CEO of Phoremost Pharmaceuticals) have been key contributors to the field of personalised medicine between 2008 and 2016. Their work has included sequencing the kinome, defining the mechanism of resistance of K-Ras mutant patients to EGFR target colon cancer therapies, and the establishment of the Coltheres consortium. The founding of this consortium led to the implementation of adaptive clinical trials using drug combinations in engineered cell lines and patient avatars, as well as the practical exemplification of the liquid tumour biopsy.

The company’s business is built around its proprietary translational genomics platform, GENESIS™, a suite of gene editing tools. Horizon has developed an extensive inventory of genetically-defined cell-line and associated reagent products that accurately model the disease-causing genetic anomalies found in humans. This technology can identify potential medicines targeted to patients with a specific genetic profile. The products have been likened to a ‘patient in a test tube,’ as they allow clinical outcomes to be predicted. Horizon has a customer base of over 1,600 organisations in over 50 countries, including major pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostic companies, as well as leading academic research centres. In recent times Horizon has increased its manufacturing capacity ten-fold whilst reducing COGS by the same amount. This has allowed the company to increase its product inventory from 2300 to 23000 in the past two years and rapidly scale the business.

Success with Personalised Medicine

These are all incredibly exciting innovations but Disley made the point that environmental factors and behaviour also play their part in the evolution of disease, thus we all must become engaged with our own health and treatment. The use of mobile phones and sensors will be beneficial in passive lifestyle and vital sign monitoring and in remote GP appointments, patient record sharing and surgery. This has the potential to evolve into the establishment of the e-patient, where the individual can take control of their disease with knowledge beyond that held by generalist physicians.

Asked what other challenges the industry faces, he commented that the tax and regulatory framework in the UK is “extremely good” but that there is a poor understanding by government of this dynamic research environment. This often leads to research funding being granted to ‘safer’ projects that were less likely to be truly ground breaking. He also criticised the media for misreporting developments in medical research.

To conclude, for Disley, affordability is key. He expressed also the “need for a convergence of technology” that will enable the elucidation of the genetic environment, the behavioural basis of disease and, ultimately, the implementation of a truly personalised form of medicine. He believes that incredible opportunities exist for engineers, scientists and business majors to work in a multidisciplinary way that will have an incredible impact on patients and society, whilst at the same time running a business that is profitable for all concerned

Informative Discussion

Disley’s address was thought provoking, informative and an inspired vision of the future of personalised medicine. We were delighted at the friendly and collaborative nature of the event – and it seems that our guests were too:

“A great opportunity to meet up and discuss the impact of the new biology on our research with friends and colleagues in Cambridge.”
Mark Treherne, Ubiquigent Ltd

The Nucleus at Chesterford Research Park proved an ideal location for the PIR breakfast meeting, with Darrin Disley delivering an inspiring talk on emerging world trends of importance, including more affordable and lower cost personalised medicine. The PIR team delivered on a great networking occasion too, sophisticated but not showy, welcoming the guests and ensuring the introductions. Not only serious discussions stimulated, but laughter was heard too! ” 
Hugh Ilyine, DestiNA Genomics Ltd

Wishing all our customers a successful and inspiring time exploring industry developments in 2017.

Sally Hope
CEO – PiR Ltd
17 January 2017

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