Partner engagement, connectivity, and knowledge exchange on drug development for healthy ageing

A series of pop-up exhibition banners has supported knowledge exchange between partners and stakeholders of the UK SPINE initiative, which is working to foster rapid development of new drug therapies for the older population.

Conference banner for UK SPINEUK SPINE
People in the UK are living longer – but much of that time is in ill health. By 2035, more than 2/3rds of over 65s may be living with multiple conditions, such as arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease – often taking a complex cocktail of drugs to manage their conditions.

“Developing drugs based on the hallmarks of ageing to treat multiple long-term conditions is a new and emerging area of research,” explains Philippa Crane, UK SPINE’s Knowledge Exchange Manager. “New drugs are difficult and expensive to develop but there is potential for therapeutics to improve our healthspan (healthy life years) – generating substantial cost savings to the NHS and building resilience to future health shocks, such as pandemics.”

This was the vision behind the UK SPINE network. “UK SPINE brings together partners from all stages of the drug development pipeline, including academic researchers and pharmaceutical companies, to foster rapid research and development of new therapies for the conditions of old age,” explains Crane. The University of Oxford provides operational and knowledge exchange support to the network whose partners include the Medicines Discovery Catapult, the Francis Crick Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the University of Dundee, and the University of Birmingham.

Networking and communication are central to building trust and collaboration between partners, but since 2020 the COVID pandemic has made this difficult. UK SPINE’s June 2022 conference was the first face-to-face meeting for several years.

“We held the conference in Alderley Park, Cheshire, where our partner, Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), have an excellent conference facility,” says Clare Denton, UK SPINE’s Knowledge Exchange Coordinator. “The facility has a large lobby area for breaks and informal networking, and we wanted to have an exhibition introducing each of the partners in the space.

“The complementary expertise each partner brings to the drug development pipeline can be hard to explain, and we hoped to find a visual representation to display this, help delegates to understand the process, and inspire conversation and knowledge exchange. We didn’t have any funding for this but found that a KE Seed Fund grant could support this kind of activity, and they were very helpful in thinking through our ideas with us.”

Each partner was invited to develop a pop-up banner explaining their work, and these were displayed in the lobby in order of their involvement in the pipeline. The team also developing an overarching banner explaining UK SPINE’s structure and unique approach and listing all the partners.

“I was delighted with the success of the exhibition which made the reception space specific to UK SPINE for the duration of the conference, and really fostered engagement and knowledge exchange,” says Denton. “Raising the profile of partners’ roles in the development pipeline, is an effective way to foster opportunities for networking and collaboration.”

“People don’t have to suffer with the conditions of old age, which are potentially treatable,” adds Philippa Crane. “UK SPINE has raised awareness about the importance and potential of drug development in this area and helped bring together the relevant stakeholders to discuss some of the critical challenges to progressing this type of research. The banners have played a small but important role in fostering knowledge exchange between researchers, patients, industry, and regulatory bodies – which is vital to the future success of this work!”

Philippa Crane is UK SPINE Knowledge Exchange Manager
Clare Denton is UK SPINE Knowledge Exchange Coordinator

UK SPINE partners: The Francis Crick Institute, Medicine Discovery Catapult, EMBL-EBI/Open Targets, Centre for Medicine Discovery, and Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee, University of Oxford (Centre for Medicines Discovery and Innovation and Engagement teams) and University of Birmingham.

Funders: KE Seed Fund provided funding for the exhibition, UK SPINE has received funding from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund