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Cambridge's Chemistry of Health programme awarded 17 million in funding

Brain showing hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease (cropped) (Credit: ZEISS Microscopy)

New funding will support fundamental research into the molecular processes underlying human disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and enable new ways to combat them.

As a University and a Department we have a huge responsibility to make sure that our research gets translated into real benefits for society

Daan Frenkel

The University has been awarded more than £17 million in funding to support research into the molecular origins of human disease, particularly neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and to accelerate the development new diagnostic and therapeutic methods of treating them.

The funding has been awarded from the fourth round of the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF). Seven university research projects from across the UK will receive over £100 million of investment in 2016-17, to drive innovation and economic growth.

The projects will promote the development of world-leading research in a range of subject areas, from semiconductors to neuroscience, and have collectively attracted £350 million of private investment, in addition to the £100 million of UKRPIF funding.

The Cambridge funding will be used to support the construction of a new £22 million Chemistry of Health building, expected to be completed by March 2017, which will provide world-class facilities for chemistry-based fundamental research in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The new building will promote the translation of fundamental research into clinical and commercial applications by providing the infrastructure required for new academic-industrial partnerships, which will have both immediate and long-term benefits for human health and the UK economy.

“As a University and a Department we have a huge responsibility to make sure that our research gets translated into real benefits for society,” said Professor Daan Frenkel, Head of the University’s Department of Chemistry. “This is particularly true in the area of health: the dramatic increase in age and lifestyle related diseases calls not just for ground-breaking chemical discoveries, but for private-public partnerships that will translate those discoveries into treatments. The Chemistry of Health building will be the embodiment of this philosophy. It will be a game changer.”

The building will house the Centre for Protein Misfolding Diseases, the Chemistry of Health Incubator, and the Molecular Production and Characterisation Centre.

The new building will enable the Centre for Protein Misfolding Diseases - directed by Professor Christopher Dobson, Professor Michele Vendruscolo and Dr Tuomas Knowles - to effect a step change in basic and translational research on molecular approaches to combat modern pandemics such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and type II diabetes.

The Chemistry of Health Incubator will be at the core of this vision, where research scientists from industrial partners and start-up companies will occupy laboratory and desk space alongside researchers from Cambridge and collaborating institutions.

The Molecular Production and Characterisation Centre will provide support and access to state-of-the-art instrumentation for in-house and UK-wide academic and industrial users.

“There have been really major breakthroughs within the Chemistry Department here in Cambridge in the context of human health, and particularly in understanding the fundamental origins of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, which are becoming frighteningly common in the modern world,” said Dobson. “These breakthroughs have come from the collaborative activities of a number of research groups working together in Cambridge, and with other partners, to understand the underlying nature of these conditions. The Chemistry of Health building will enable us to make a giant step forward in translating this work into future treatments to combat these rapidly proliferating and truly devastating conditions.”

For projects to be eligible for a UKRPIF award universities are required to secure at least double the amount of government investment from businesses or charities: these seven successful projects have between them secured more than three times the amount of public funding in investment from non-government sources.

To date, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which manages the UKRPIF programme, has allocated over £500 million to 34 projects running between 2014-17, attracting £1.3 billion of investment from business and charities. A further £400 million of funding was announced for UKRPIF in last week’s budget for the period to 2021.

“The UK Research Partnership Investment Fund has enabled universities to develop world-leading facilities and opportunities to deliver exceptional research, as well as attracting in more than £1.3 billion of private investment,” said Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE. “I am delighted that we are able to support these seven projects, and the budget announcement of additional funding for UKRPIF is excellent news. UK universities tackle major national and global challenges, and make a significant contribution to economic growth. The funding offers a further opportunity to enhance the nation’s research infrastructure and develop partnership work.”

Posted on 24/04/2015

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