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Babraham scientists awarded £900k grant to boost understanding of epigenetics

27 May 2010

Scientists at the Babraham Institute have been awarded funding to further their internationally-leading research in epigenetic regulation in partnership with CellCentric, the biotechnology company focused on epigenetics. Designed to promote academic-industrial collaborations, this 'Stand-alone' LINK grant from the BBSRC, along with contributions from CellCentric, will support a £900k research programme between the company and Professor Wolf Reik, FRS - Associate Director of the Babraham Institute and inaugural Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills said, "Co-funding with industry is one way of taking forward BBSRC's world-class science. In strategically important areas such as the processes underlying healthy development and ageing, this helps ensure that research is translated into real benefits for people's lives and the economy. In addition, the companies gain top flight science that complements their own expertise and tackles specific obstacles to innovation and commercial development."

Epigenetic mechanisms are at the heart of developmental biology, enabling the fine tuning of genes and their expression in different places at different times, leading to the amazing complexity seen in humans despite the relatively small number of unique genes. Epigenetics provides an additional control system that is distinct from the gene sequence yet is also inherited. It also helps to explain aspects of human behaviour and how our genes can be influenced by the environment. Faulty epigenetic regulation is also implicated in diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as conditions like obesity. The funding will provide new insight into how such diseases arise and strategies for developing new medicines.

Epigenetics is a rapidly expanding field of interest to academia, the biotechnology industry and pharmaceutical companies. The Babraham Institute, an institute of the BBSRC, is a world-leader in epigenetics; last week The Royal Society honoured Professor Reik for his outstanding contributions to understanding the fundamental mechanisms and importance of epigenomic regulation, which plays a critical role in normal growth and disease.

Commenting on the new grant, Professor Reik said, "Working with CellCentric has brought real benefit in seeing our research accelerated towards therapeutic utility. We look forward to the expanded relationship that should help pioneer new ways to treat intractable diseases."

Certain pathways can be stimulated to drive epigenetic events that will convert a fully-differentiated adult cell back into a pluripotent, stem cell-like state. Conversely, when epigenetic processes go wrong, disease can occur; a number of epigenetically-regulated enzymes are incorrectly regulated in a range of cancers. Unravelling epigenetic processes will therefore not only improve our understanding of developmental biology but will also have direct relevance for developing novel therapeutics to tackle diseases. The funds will support research into the enzymes involved in epigenetic changes and the identification of small molecules that can alter their activity.

CellCentric has drug discovery and development programmes involving key molecules that are involved in eliciting epigenetic control. Dr Nessa Carey, Scientific Director of CellCentric added, "We are very pleased to expand our collaboration with Wolf Reik. The Babraham Institute has established itself as a centre of excellence for understanding the interplay between developmental biology, epigenetics and disease processes."

As an indication of the importance and growth of the epigenetics research field, and recognition of the potential for commercial translation, Tuesday, 25th May saw the inaugural meeting of the Cambridge Epigenetics Club. Over 200 attendees from multiple institutions and laboratories heard lectures from Profs Caroline Dean (John Innes Centre) and Adrian Bird (University of Edinburgh). The audience reflected the growing interest in the area, and the diverse fields upon which epigenetics impacts. Meetings will be a regular event organised by Prof Anne Ferguson-Smith, Prof Sir David Baulcombe (both of University of Cambridge) and Prof Wolf Reik (Babraham Institute). Support so far comes from CellCentric, Qiagen, Pfizer, Diagenode, Illumina, Millipore - reflecting the growing interest in translating the science into a variety of commercial applications, including cancer therapeutics, regenerative medicine and research tools.

ENDS

About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) located near Cambridge, undertaking international quality research to support the biomedical aspects of the BBSRC's mission. The Institute's research is focused on understanding the biological events that underlie the normal functions of cells and the implication of failure or abnormalities in these processes. The latest technologies are being used to study the basis of conditions such as neurodegenerative disorders, birth defects, cancer and diseases of the immune and cardiovascular systems. With a strategic focus on 'healthy ageing', novel approaches for tackling chronic diseases and public health concerns like obesity and inflammatory disorders are being discovered. www.babraham.ac.uk

About CellCentric

CellCentric is a biotechnology company focused on epigenetics. Formed in 2004, CellCentric's competitive position stems from its ability to access early knowledge and assets from multiple leading research laboratories. The company has agreements with over 30 groups including at the Babraham Institute, University of Cambridge, University College London, CRG Barcelona, The Wistar Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson, University of Southern California and Massachusetts General Hospital. CellCentric currently has 7 novel target discovery programmes ongoing, focused on cancer, as well as multiple projects related to reprogramming and epigenetic tools. For further details on the company, see: www.cellcentric.com

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Dr Claire Cockcroft, Head, External Relations

tel: 01223 496260
mob: 07786 335978

Prof Wolf Reik, Group Leader

tel: 01223 496336

Will West, CEO CellCentric

tel: 01799 531130