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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”