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Queen’s part of £7 million consortium to improve outcomes for patients with early stage cancer

The Precision Medicine Centre of Excellence (PMC) at Queen’s is leading a ground-breaking collaboration with the world’s largest biotech company Roche, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) specialist, Sonrai Analytics.

Precision Medicine Centre UKRI announcement

The ACTIONED consortium aims to transform the future treatment of colorectal cancer patients across the world. It will bring together a number of specialists to drive a holistic analysis of tissue and plasma samples using state-of-the-art genomics and digital pathology methodologies in an integrated precision medicine laboratory. The collaboration will aim to develop bespoke algorithms across a spectrum of genomics and image analyses to improve the predictive value of these technologies by generating integrated reports.

Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez, Co-Director of the PMC and Chair of Molecular Pathology at Queen's University Belfast said: “We are delighted to be part of the ACTIONED consortium, which will for the first time combine tissue pathology, genomics and AI and enable the creation of a molecular pathology laboratory workflow for the future of cancer patient care.”

The PMC at Queen’s University brings together high-throughput genomics, digital pathology and big data analytics in a fully integrated fashion. In 2017, Invest Northern Ireland offered £5.8 million of support towards the £10 million Centre.

Kevin Holland, CEO of Invest Northern Ireland said: “When we first launched the PMC at Queen’s University in 2017, our ambition was to further enhance the personalised medicine and oncology research sector in Northern Ireland and support the growth of the precision medicine industry here. This announcement today, which will see a collaboration with Roche and Sonrai is an excellent endorsement of the hard work and ground-breaking developments taking place. We welcome further investment in this strategically important Centre.”

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. Current treatment for early stage colorectal patients usually involves surgical removal of the tumour frequently followed by chemotherapy. It is currently difficult to assess whether the surgery has been successful and therefore a large proportion of patients are routinely treated further with chemotherapy, with a risk of consequent severe side effects.

Professor David Gonzalez de Castro, Co-Director of the PMC and Chair of Genomic Medicine at Queen's University Belfast, said: “Developing integrated diagnostic tools for early detection of recurrence could help preventing patients from receiving unnecessary toxic chemotherapy and improve their quality of life, while saving precious resources in our healthcare systems to be invested in further improving early detection.”

The total value of the ACTIONED consortium is over £7 million. Innovate UK, part of the UK Research and Innovation organization, has invested almost £3 million over the three-year programme as government funding provided through UK Research and Innovation’s industrial strategy challenge fund. Roche Diagnostics Ltd are contributing over £4 million and Sonrai Analytics are contributing almost £200,000 to the consortium.  

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said: "It is fantastic that ACTIONED, led by Northern Ireland's world-leading Queen's University Belfast, has been awarded almost £3 million to help their work in developing AI to detect cancer earlier and aid more accurate diagnoses. So many of us know people who have been affected by cancer and this innovative project could help save countless lives. 

“The UK Government's backing of the project reflects our commitment to support the work of our brilliant scientists across all four nations of the UK in their potentially life-changing research and development endeavours.”

Sonrai Analytics, a Queen’s University Belfast spin-out company, develops artificial intelligence algorithms through big-data collection to improve personalised medicine. Darragh McArt, CEO of Sonrai Analytics, added: “The PMC at Queen’s is a leading example of modern day integrated healthcare and we hope that Sonrai can align within this programme to help understand the indications for the best treatment to be given to the right patient.”

Geoff Twist, Managing Director UK & Ireland and Management Centre European Agents at Roche Diagnostics Ltd, said: “We are thrilled with the ACTIONED consortium as it integrates the two most common modalities of cancer diagnostics - tissue-based and genomic-based approaches.  Bringing together our collective knowledge and expertise, this consortium has the potential to impact cancer patient care globally through new diagnostic solutions and insights.”


Photo: Professor Manuel Salto Tellez
Professor Manuel Salto Tellez
Director of Queen University Belfast’s Precision Medicine Centre of Excellence
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