UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering


UCL partner in new £6m Gene Therapy Innovation Hub to support rapid development of gene therapies

18 March 2021

UCL will play a key role in the development of a new £6m Gene Therapy Innovation Hub which will form critical infrastructure to manufacture viral vectors and support the rapid development of gene therapies in the UK

2 Students in UCL Biochemical Engineering laboratory in blue lab coats

The Hub is one of three announced today as part of a new £18 million investment by LifeArc, the Medical Research Council (MRC) with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). A primary focus of the Hubs will be the provision of materials, training and support for academic-led clinical trials and accelerating treatment for millions of patients including those with rare and life-threatening genetic diseases.

The King’s, Royal Free and UCL Gene Therapy Innovation Hub will be led by Professor Robin Ali at King’s College London with support from Dr Qasim Rafiq and Professor Mark Lowdell leading the UCL and Royal Free activity. This will include the integration of the new MSc Manufacture and Commercialisation of Stem Cell and Gene Therapies programme established by Dr Rafiq as part of the key training provision for the Innovation Hubs.

Dr Qasim Rafiq, Associate Professor in Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocess Engineering said:

“Gene therapies represent a key therapeutic modality which is showing significant scientific and clinical success. However, there are significant translational and manufacturing challenges that need to be addressed to support the UK’s world-leading clinical innovation and excellence in this sector. The King’s, Royal Free and UCL Gene Therapy Innovation Hub builds on the success and reinforces the strength of these globally-leading institutes to establish manufacturing capability and capacity, core skills and training provision and technical expertise to deliver the viral vectors required to support future gene therapies”.  

Dr Melanie Lee, CEO of LifeArc, said: 

“Recent innovations in gene therapies hold enormous potential for treating conditions such as rare diseases, but often promising ideas – particularly in academia – are not making it through to patients. Through our collaboration, we aim to meet the need for researchers to have access to the essential facilities and translational advice to progress promising research.”

Professor Fiona Watt, MRC’s Executive Chair said:

“Support for innovative advanced therapies has been a long-standing priority for MRC, and so we are delighted to announce this unique partnership with LifeArc. The new network of innovation hubs for gene therapies will build on the UK’s great strengths in this area. They will provide targeted investment in vital infrastructure to accelerate academic research programmes down the path to patient benefit, supporting the delivery of a new wave of genetic medicines.”

Dr Lee Beniston, BBSRC’s Associate Director for Industry Partnerships and Collaborative R&D, noted:

“Gene therapies have outstanding clinical potential, but their development is critically dependent on the manufacture of the underpinning viral vector delivery technology. Over a number of years, BBSRC has made significant investments to help support bioprocess research and development. We are therefore delighted to be investing in this network of hubs, which will harness the UK’s excellence in bioprocess innovation to tackle key challenges in viral vector manufacturing.”