UK looks to establish as global centre for complex medicines

Following the ground-breaking creation of COVID-19 vaccines, the UK has the opportunity to create the world’s centre for complex medicines – which is set to become a multi-billion pound industry.

A new report by the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), in partnership with the CPI – an organisation which builds bridges between UK business and academia – has been published which highlights “the extensive potential for the UK in developing complex medicines.”

‘Shaping the UK into an epicentre for complex medicines’ details the potential medical and economic impact of this field, and how the UK is poised to take further advantage of an array of opportunities in this sector.

A complex medicine applies novel technologies that deliver or target drugs, by modification of a pharmaceutical ingredient, formulation or using a new delivery route.

The report said: “Complex medicines offer the potential to combat elusive ‘undruggable’ targets and the development of medicines for conditions that are currently untreatable. They also promise higher efficacy and fewer side effects for currently treated conditions.”

“The potential for complex medicines is vast,” it added. “Drugs harnessing the potential of modified RNA, antisense and siRNA oligonucleotides, antibody–drug conjugates and nanomedicines will become as important as today’s ‘small molecule’ drugs, reaching potential market values into the hundreds of billions – if the potential can be realised through innovation support and industry collaboration.”

MDC and CPI engaged with UK industry stakeholders to describe the complex medicines landscape, with insights on its current and future challenges and opportunities.

75% of those surveyed identified the need for more government help in the form of coordination and investment. Two-thirds wanted to see more collaborative partnerships in the development of complex medicines. Over 50% identified a better understanding of complex medicines by regulators as key to developing this field.

“Recent successes in FDA approvals of antibody–drug conjugates (ADCs), RNA therapeutics and the UK’s regulatory leadership in coronavirus vaccines show that complex medicines are having a global impact,” added the report. “Lipid nanoparticles as carriers of next-generation vaccines also came to global prominence in 2021 as the platform for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.”

Prof Peter Simpson, Chief Scientific Officer, MDC, said: “New ways to deliver and target drugs selectively within the body, and new chemistry approaches to designing the drug molecule itself, combine to make complex medicines an exciting opportunity. We have begun to see realisation of their potential to make a really positive impact both medically and economically. Through partnership and innovation in solving the technical challenges, the development of new complex drug classes can rapidly address challenging medical needs. We are extremely proud that the UK is at the very forefront of this new era – with MDC, CPI and other key players acting as a driving force.

“This report offers us a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges UK innovators in complex medicines are facing. This knowledge allows us to better target the interventions provided by MDC, CPI and other key stakeholders, to ensure the UK sector is supported in their mission to get better-targeted therapies to patients faster.”

Dr Caroline Kelly, Head of Technology Strategy (Formulation), CPI, said: “We’ve already seen the global impact offered by complex medicines through the rapid development of the nucleic acid-based Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. But the benefits of complex medicines go far beyond those we have seen with these vaccines.

“Complex medicines have the potential to treat conditions that as of today are untreatable with existing medicines. They can also offer more targeted therapies with higher efficacy and fewer side effects – a clear benefit for someone going through chemotherapy treatment for example. The market value for complex medicines is set to reach hundreds of billions of pounds, and you can see why with the potential benefits for patients.”

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