An injectable cure for inherited heart muscle conditions that can kill young people in the prime of their lives could be available within a few years, after an international team of researchers, led by Oxford University’s Professor Hugh Watkins and Harvard University’s Professor Christine Seideman, were announced as the winners of the British Heart Foundation’s Big Beat Challenge.
The global award, at £30m, is one of the largest non-commercial grants ever given and presents a “once in a generation opportunity” to provide hope for families struck by these killer diseases.
The winning team, CureHeart, will seek to develop the first cures for inherited heart muscle diseases by pioneering revolutionary and ultra-precise gene therapy technologies that could edit or silence the faulty genes that cause these deadly conditions.
This is our once-in-generation opportunity to relieve families of the constant worry of sudden death, heart failure and potential need for a heart transplant. After 30 years of research, we have discovered many of the genes and specific genetic faults responsible for different cardiomyopathies, and how they work. We believe that we will have a gene therapy ready to start testing in clinical trials in the next five years.
- Professor Hugh Watkins
“The £30 million from the BHF’s Big Beat Challenge will give us the platform to turbo-charge our progress in finding a cure so the next generation of children diagnosed with genetic cardiomyopathies can live long, happy and productive lives,” said Professor Watkins, who is the British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oxford University's Radcliffe Department of Medicine.
Professor Keith Channon, Head of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine, said: “I am delighted that the BHF have chosen the CureHeart team to deliver on this world-leading challenge. The Radcliffe Department of Medicine looks forward to supporting and fostering the collaborations between scientists and researchers from many disciplines who will be key to the success of the Cure Heart programme.”
The team, made up of world-leading scientists from the UK, US and Singapore, were selected by an International Advisory Panel chaired by Professor Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government.
Professor Gavin Screaton, Head of the Medical Sciences Division, University of Oxford commented: ‘This is an extraordinary opportunity for the CureHeart team to make a difference in the lives of so many patients across the world. We have a long history of multidisciplinary working here in the Medical Sciences Division, and pride ourselves in the many successes our scientists have had in translating their cutting-edge lab research into real life treatments. This work by Professor Watkins and the international CureHeart team exemplifies this ethic at its best and we are truly excited to see their progress.’