Getting Better With Age – Conference Set to Tackle UK’s “Ticking Time Bomb” of Age-Related Illnesses

Alderley Park conference aims to improve therapeutics for the UK’s ageing population

Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) is hosting UK SPINE, Healthspan vs. lifespan: New medicines to close the gap’ –  a conference on ageing, which aims to tackle one of the UK’s most pressing healthcare challenges.

UK SPINE is the UK’s first drug discovery and knowledge exchange network focused on geroscience – the science of ageing and the major risk factors for the development of disease and long-term conditions.

Taking place in Cheshire on 27 and 28 June, the conference will drive forward much-needed healthy ageing initiatives across the life sciences sector, which tackle multiple age-related illnesses, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease and loss of muscle mass, which tend to occur in tandem.

The first day of the conference will focus on the scientific research underpinning healthy ageing, including highlights from Professor Jesus Gil discussing the ageing research landscape. It will showcase some of the exciting research UK SPINE has supported, for example, looking at improving vaccination response, including for COVID-19, and understanding the impact of zoledronate (an approved osteoporosis drug) for ageing.

The programme for the second day will focus on the translational landscape, seeking the perspective of key stakeholders ranging across industry including SMEs, clinicians, regulators, and patients to inform the systems required to drive the development, approval, and adoption of therapeutics and Medical Technologies (MedTech) to impact this area of significant societal need.

Understanding the ageing process, its effect on human development and its impact on disease susceptibility is of critical importance to national and global health. An ageing population also carries a significant economic burden. In the UK, the cost of treatment for the over-60’s commands over 40% of the annual NHS budget.

Globally, the World Health Organisation predicts that between 2000 and 2050 the total number of adults aged 60 years or over will more than double. In this population, even one additional year of healthy life could save over $30 trillion.

In response to these statistics, the UK Government set a grand challenge in 2018 to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest. This was further enhanced through the UK Life Sciences Vision (2021) where understanding the pathways associated with multisystem ageing and utilising these to discover new diagnostic, therapeutic and MedTech interventions, was highlighted as one of the Great Healthcare Challenges.

UK SPINE brings together six national institutions with a commitment to open sharing of knowledge, research and understanding of age-related illness to address these grand challenges – including Medicines Discovery Catapult, the University of Dundee (Drug Discovery Unit), University of Oxford (Centre for Medicines Discovery) and University of Birmingham, The Francis Crick Institute and EMBL-EBI including Open Targets.

Dr Harriet Teare, UK SPINE Programme Director emphasises the importance of this work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“If we are going to be resilient to future health shocks that disproportionately affect older people, we need to try and find ways of improving health in the later stages of life. This approach to ageing research aims to provide personal, societal and economic benefits that could arm the population with the tools to withstand future pandemics.”

MDC’s Head of Virtual Drug Discovery, Dr Graeme Wilkinson, feels not enough attention is being directed towards drug discovery to tackle age-related illnesses, despite the economic and societal benefits:

“Programmes like UK SPINE, as a national network of collaborators, will refocus efforts towards age-related illnesses. This conference is a way to showcase some of the cutting-edge innovative science being developed in this crucial field.

“Our understanding of the biology of ageing is increasingly advancing, and it is possible to envisage therapeutics which could treat, and perhaps prevent multiple conditions, which will ultimately contribute to better health in older age.

“Greater collaboration with UK SPINE will help create the tools, ideas, and pathways for developing new therapeutics for a multitude of diseases linked with ageing. It is something we are focussing on at MDC, with the aim to drive forward sector innovation in this critically important area.”

For more information on the conference or to register to attend, please visit:

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