Loughborough University expert wins funding for research into personalised medicines

Professor Nick Medcalf

Loughborough University academic Professor Nick Medcalf is part of a new link-up between academia, clinicians and industry to improve the efficiency of healthcare product manufacturing.

The project won £465,000 funding from the Engineering and Physical Services Research Council (EPSRC) to study Re-Distributed Manufacturing (RDM) in Healthcare.

Before the industrial revolution gathered manufacturing activities into large factories, most production was from local sources close to where goods were used. With the advent of mass customisation and growing pressure to reduce supply-chain costs in healthcare it is time to consider ‘re-distributing’ manufacturing closer to the patient. RDM is defined as technology, systems and strategies that change the economics and organisation of manufacturing, particularly in relation to location and scale.

The Re-Distributed Manufacturing in Healthcare Network (RiHN) is being led by Professor Medcalf, supporting the Principal Investigator Dr Wendy Phillips from the University of the West of England. It comprises a multi-disciplinary team including academic institutes, research centres, the NHS and industry representatives.

During the two-year project the team, which will include researchers from Nottingham, Cambridge, Brunel and Newcastle Universities and Health Technology consultancy, Lime Associates, will address the key challenges and opportunities relating to RDM in healthcare. The researchers will support feasibility studies, interact with other RDM networks and communicate with stakeholders and the community.

Professor Medcalf said “There are powerful and valuable innovations in the healthcare pipeline. Many of these new treatments comprise personalised medicines, customised formats or products that must be used very quickly after preparation. These are all drivers for making the goods close to the patient or for coordinating manufacture within the clinical timetable. Loughborough University has a national presence in translational research for regenerative medicine, which has many of these features. We now wish to see how the businesses and operations can be improved to reach more patients.

“This is an exciting time to be working in healthcare in the UK because we have a unique social advantage in the NHS for applying new manufacturing and supply networks. The initiative will also inform the UK research agenda at a national level.”

Dr Phillips, from UWE's Bristol Business School added: “RDM may change the delivery of healthcare products and enhance national competitiveness, but there are key challenges to realising these benefits in terms of regulatory affairs, training, quality assurance and customer-supplier relationships.

“If successful, RDM has the potential to improve citizen wellbeing with products such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and regenerative medical products such as cell- and tissue-based therapies. There are potentially clinical, social and economic advantages if healthcare products could be prescribed, customised and manufactured within a single visit to the clinic or administered in the home, reducing the need to travel and undertake repeat visits.

“Personalised medicine is estimated to grow to a £1.5 billion industry by 2018. The ability to provide devices supporting rapid diagnosis that allow for the best therapy for an individual patient to be rapidly determined will be a key part of the growth. RDM could underpin this, enabling the provision of tailored, right-first-time treatments to all patients and it is imperative that a single vision of the research is created to position the UK at the forefront of healthcare manufacturing.”

Dr Steve Langron, a RiHN industrial partner and Supply Chain Director for health technology consultancy Lime Associates, said, “This is a very exciting project that reflects the economic importance of healthcare in the UK.

“The NHS serves over 64 million people in the UK and has an estimated turnover of £121bn, so even marginal advances in technology can have a big impact.”

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