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nurse discusses bowel disease with a patient. plastic model of bowel in foreground.

New Birmingham-Roche collaboration targets new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease

A new £850k collaboration between Birmingham Health Partners (BHP) and global biotechnology leaders Roche is set to improve both diagnosis and care of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by investigating promising biomarkers and inflammatory mechanisms in the search for new treatment targets.

IBD affects around 250,000 people in the UK in the form of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and is characterised by an imbalance in gut bacteria which causes debilitating damage to the intestines.

Current treatments, which target the body’s immune response, are ineffective for the majority (around two-thirds) of patients, meaning many of them eventually have to undergo invasive surgery. These diseases affect mainly younger people of working age, and as the precise cause is not yet fully understood, there is a pressing need to identify non-surgical therapies which can improve quality of life.

As host to the largest IBD clinic in Europe, BHP founder-member University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) will lead the new active translational research collaboration with Roche scientists, alongside BHP colleagues at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences (ICVS) and Microbiome Treatment Centre. Newly-diagnosed IBD patients will be seen weekly at new clinics across sister UHB sites Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and Heartlands Hospital.

This unique patient cohort will provide invaluable biological samples taken before they begin treatment – allowing researchers to investigate biomarkers identified by Dr Asif Iqbal of ICVS. Dr Iqbal’s team will study disease pathology including the role of immune cells, the microbiome and metabolome in driving the various inflammatory mechanisms associated with IBD.

Professor Tariq Iqbal, Consultant Gastroenterologist at UHB and Director of the Microbiome Treatment Centre at the University of Birmingham explained: “IBD is an underfunded disease area and the potential benefits to patients which will arise as a result of this collaboration are likely to be lifechanging for many. Those participating in the trial will help build the first clinical resource of its kind from which we aim to promote earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments.

“Cross-discipline collaboration, facilitated by BHP, will be crucial in unlocking these advances as we tap in to expertise in specialties such as genomic sequencing as well as the University’s Microbiome Treatment Centre.”

Dr Asif Iqbal commented: “This project will demonstrate the power of combining basic science with translational clinical research for patient benefit. Through identifying targets in immune cells which drive this chronic inflammatory disease, we hope to develop a range of novel therapeutics.”

The collaborative research award of £844,163 from Roche funds two combined IBD projects from March 2021 to January 2023. UHB is aiming to recruit 60 patients to the study.