MSD – Written evidence (INQ0055)
1.1 MSD welcomes the opportunity to respond to this Inquiry.
1.2 This response addresses two key questions within the ‘Scientific basis’ section of the Inquiry.
1.4 MSD is one of the top 5 biopharmaceutical companies in the UK, with a significant and growing presence. Scientific invention is at the heart of what we do, and we are at the forefront of some of the world’s most urgent global health challenges.
1.5 MSD announced plans to invest in a new state of the art discovery research centre in central London – once established, this centre will be home to 150 research scientists and 800 head office staff in support functions and clinical operations.
1.6 Led by Dr Fiona Marshall, the research will focus on cell homeostasis, in the context of ageing, that can lead to disease. The aim will be to identify mechanisms to target for new drug development for a range of diseases such as Motor Neurone disease (MND), Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
1.7 MSD scientists are currently co-located at the London BioScience Innovation Centre and the Francis Crick Institute, whilst we secure our permanent site. We are committed to expanding our engagement and collaborations with the early research community here in the UK, and in Europe.
1.8 MSD is collaborating on a research project with the Francis Crick Institute. MSD and the Crick, with funding from MSD and the Medical Research Council (MRC), are collaborating over the next five years to further scientific understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of MND.
How complete is the scientific understanding of the biological processes of ageing and their epidemiologies (including the relative roles of genetics, epigenetics, lifestyle, environment, etc.)?
2.1 Scientific understanding of diseases of ageing is advancing, but our understanding is certainly incomplete; the UK can and is playing a leading role in supporting the developing science in this area. To this end, MSD supports the work of the Genomics England ‘5 million genomes’ project, and UK Government’s commitment to support UK science by increasing R&D intensity to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
2.2 To date, the UK Biobank is the first project to demonstrate the successful collection and sharing of linked genetic, physical and clinical information on a population scale. The genetic architecture of brain structure and function is a key area of investigation of relevance to ageing. Recent genome-wide association studies of brain imaging phenotypes in the UK Biobank have provided insights into the genetic architecture of the brain that are relevant to neurological and psychiatric disorders, brain development and ageing.
2.3 Longitudinal cohort studies may also help to identify novel drug targets or interventions associated with healthy ageing. This could be achieved by identifying phenotypic, genetic, epigenetic, lifestyle and environmental differences between “healthy agers” and “non-healthy agers”. Importantly, early disease detection cohorts need to include elderly people and longitudinal studies should continue through life. Cross-sectional studies examining “healthy vs non-healthy agers” may also be informative.
2.4 From a scientific discovery perspective, our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of diseases of ageing is improving. Translational models help us to apply this knowledge and identify relevant drug targets, that support the ultimate quest to develop medicines that can treat of diseases of ageing and make a difference to the lives of patients.
Which developments in biomedical science are anticipated in the coming years, in time to contribute to the Government’s aim of five more years of healthy and independent life by 2035?
3.1 Early diagnostics for ageing-related diseases will play a key role. Early detection of disease impacts the effectiveness of current and future disease modifying treatments. Biomarkers for these diagnostics, and for monitoring the effectiveness of treatments, will also be important.
3.2 The importance of the UK being able to offer, as appropriate, nationally funded diagnostic testing to inform choice of treatment, will be will key to delivering on the 5 more years of healthy and independent life by 2035 ambition. The scale of this financial challenge in Alzheimer’s Disease alone is highlighted in a recent report published by the LSE and MSD.ii
3.3 Personalised medicine for ageing-related diseases and multi-morbidities will become more of a reality in the future, if genetic information can be accompanied by phenotypic data and detailed medical records.
3.4 The role of the recently announced Digital Innovation Hubs in enabling the integration of data sets, for use by researchers, and by healthcare professionals in the NHS, will be key to unlocking the potential of the UK’s healthcare data.
20 September 2019
 L. T. Elliott et al. Nature 562, 210–216; 2018. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0571-7
Wittenberg. R et al. Economic impacts of introducing diagnostics for mild cognitive impairment Alzheimer's disease patients. Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions Volume 5, 2019, P. 382-387, 2019. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trci.2019.06.001