UK Launches its First National Total-Body PET Platform for Drug Discovery

Patients to benefit from game-changing full-body scans to provide a richer picture of human health for clinical research

A partnership between Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK will deliver scientific breakthroughs with the launch of the UK’s first-of-its-kind national total-body positron emission tomography (PET) imaging platform for drug discovery.

The National PET Imaging Platform (NPIP) will deploy total-body PET across the UK, bringing together transformational research from two state-of-the-art total-body PET imaging scanners. It will transform medical research and industrialise cutting-edge technology, enhancing the quality and speed of drug discovery.

By facilitating access to total-body PET imaging for clinicians, academics and industry, NPIP will help accelerate discoveries, leading to more advances for UK researchers and better outcomes for patients, improving the calibre of healthcare now and in the long term.

PET scanning is a crucial, non-invasive imaging technique that can detect diseases’ early onset. With higher sensitivity than existing technology, NPIP’s total-body PET scanners will provide new insights into anatomy that have never been seen before, improving our detection, diagnosis and treatment of complex, multi-organ diseases.

Current PET technology is less sensitive and requires the patient to be repositioned multiple times to achieve a full-body field of view. Total-body PET scans are quicker, exposing patients to considerably lower doses of radiation, meaning more patients, including children, can participate in clinical trials to improve researchers’ understanding of diseases. The speed of total-body PET scanners means that NPIP will be able to facilitate more patient scans, enhancing the scale and impact of clinical research projects.

This richer picture of human health will help us develop drugs and diagnostics more effectively and bring them to market quicker, benefiting patients and enabling the UK to unlock new opportunities to treat complex diseases like cancer and cardiovascular and neurological diseases.

Supplied by Siemens Healthineers, the two total-body Biograph Vision Quadra PET/CT scanners capture outstanding image clarity of a patient’s entire body in near real-time. The scanners will be situated in Scotland and London, serving the length and breadth of the UK. Each facility will be jointly managed by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland and by King’s College London and Imperial College London in London, and the scanners are expected to be operational as soon as April 2024.

NPIP’s network of infrastructure and intelligence will provide a complete picture of patients and how they respond to novel drugs and treatments. Uniquely, it will also connect insights from many research programmes and trials. In doing so, it will begin to build a rich bank of data that the PET community can access for the benefit of patients.

The UK Government, through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund, has invested £32 million into the groundbreaking total-body PET technology that will help drive the UK’s reputation as a global life science superpower.

George Freeman MP, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said:

“Advances in imaging and informatics pioneered here in the UK have led to a step-change in how we diagnose and treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, bringing hope to patients and their families.

“Our £32 million backing for this Platform will give British clinicians and researchers access to a never-before-seen breadth of data, pushing forward new innovations from drug discovery to screening, strengthening our life sciences sector, and ultimately transforming lives.”

Dr Juliana Maynard, Director of Operations and Engagement for the National PET Imaging Platform and Head of Translational Imaging at Medicines Discovery Catapult, said:

“PET scanning is nothing short of transformational for patients who need it the most. Total-body PET scanners can detect serious diseases with unprecedented speed and accuracy. The launch of NPIP and provision of these state-of-the-art total-body PET scanners is a testament to the UK’s expertise and strength as a life sciences superpower and the collaborative efforts of the entire UK PET community.

“The value of NPIP is huge for the UK life sciences sector, providing researchers with access to superior clinical data, not just from their own trials but from every research programme that joins the platform. NPIP will allow the kind of collaboration in imaging research the likes of which the UK has never seen before. It will set a new standard of excellence for UK medical imaging research, unlocking innovative discoveries and attracting the international research community to conduct clinical trials on British soil.

“It means that, collectively, we can power forward drug discovery with renewed confidence and drive world-leading capabilities in detection, diagnosis, and treatment.”

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care and CEO of the National Institute for Health and Care Research, said:

“This new platform represents a huge step forward for clinical research, enabling more patients to take part in clinical trials, delivering more scans, and enhancing our understanding of diseases. Ultimately this could help lead to the development of new drugs and treatments to tackle some of the biggest health challenges of our time, from cancer to dementia.

“Backed by £32 million through the UK Research and Innovation Infrastructure Fund, this demonstrates once again the UK’s commitment to investing in cutting-edge technology to boost research and cement our reputation as a life sciences superpower.”

Dr Adam Staines, Project Director for the National PET Imaging Platform and Associate Director at the Medical Research Council, said:

“Total-body PET imaging represents a significant technological advancement which will unlock many health advances in the next decade. The scientific advancements that will be enabled through the creation of NPIP will allow academic researchers, UK industry, and health professionals across the UK to all benefit from the investment. This will, in turn, maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of human imaging research and benefit many patients directly across key societal challenges such as dementia and cancer. This is yet another excellent example of how UKRI Infrastructure funding is maintaining the UK as a science superpower by providing our researchers with the necessary tools to work at the cutting edge.”

Dr Stella Peace, Innovate UK Executive Director for Healthy Living and Agriculture, said:

“Innovate UK is delighted to have been part of the collaboration delivering this cutting-edge technology, ensuring that the UK lead in this field. The National PET Imaging Platform will open opportunities for SMEs operating within the drug discovery sector, giving them access to state-of-the-art equipment and invaluable data to progress their innovations faster and deliver better outcomes for patients. This advance strengthens the UK’s capabilities and will support many businesses in the pharmaceutical R&D space.”

Dr Samana Brannigan, Head of Health Technologies at Innovate UK, said:

“Through our collaborative efforts and embracing this cutting-edge technology, we will ensure the UK is leading this field. NPIP will open opportunities for SMEs operating within the drug discovery sector, giving them vital access to state-of-the-art equipment and invaluable data to progress their innovation faster. Our commitment to establishing and nurturing a national PET imaging network will strengthen the UK’s capabilities, providing robust support for clinical research initiatives and businesses in the pharmaceutical R&D space.”

Professor Chris Molloy, CEO of Medicines Discovery Catapult, said:

“This programme is a great example of a Catapult in action: industrialising and driving adoption of innovative technology. MDC’s work helps NPIP bring the community together and reshape drug discovery for patient benefit.”

Dr Michele Afif, CEO of The Brain Tumour Charity, which funds world-class research and provides specialised support for anyone affected by brain tumours, said:

“The National PET Imaging Platform is an exciting and innovative way to help improve imaging in medical research. Advancements in imaging technologies will ultimately improve research and diagnostic capabilities in the UK, which will hopefully result in more effective disease diagnosis and kinder treatments in the future.

“This is urgently needed for those affected by a brain tumour – the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 years old. We look forward to following the progress of this imaging platform and hope it will have promising outcomes for clinical research for hard-to-treat diseases such as brain tumours.”

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“At a time when advancements in diagnostic technology are urgently needed for those affected by dementia, it’s fantastic to see the total-body PET platform launch in the UK. Equitable and rapid access to state-of-the-art PET scanners will provide dementia researchers and clinicians with a new tool to better understand the complex mechanisms that underpin this condition. We hope it will also support the delivery of dementia clinical trials through increased efficiency and participation and could help embed research in clinical practice across the UK.

“The platform aims to improve data collection and promote collaboration across academia, industry, and the NHS – these are two key areas that the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission is spearheading to ensure that the UK is a global leader in dementia research, and we look forward to seeing the impact that this new innovation could have on patient outcomes.”

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“PET scanning is a crucial diagnostic tool, allowing doctors to detect heart conditions by visualising blood flow to the heart. As we enter a new era of PET technology, the National PET Imaging Platform is set to transform the landscape of clinical research. By allowing researchers and clinicians to build a greater picture of cardiovascular and overall health, NPIP will power new breakthroughs, improving the detection and treatment of heart conditions.”

Dr Sam Godfrey, Cancer Research UK Research Information Lead, said:

“This technology could be a game changer for cancer research in understanding the impact of cancer on the whole body. The effects of this disease are not only confined to the location of a tumour. We hope that these total-body PET scanners will give us new insights into how cancer interacts with the body in harmful ways, such as when the disease spreads to other parts of the body, and the whole-body wasting – cachexia – that occurs in advanced cancer patients.”

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The National PET Imaging Platform is funded through the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.