• UK Launch of first Full Body PET Scanners  to boost Medical Discovery
    Juliana Maynard (Credit: MDC)
  • Adam Staines (Credit:MRC)
  • ALexander Hammers (Credit: KCL)
  • Eric Aboagye (Credit: ICL)
  • David Newby (Credit: University of Edinburgh)
  • Chris Molloy (Credit: MDC)
  • David Lewis (Credit: University of Glasgow)

News & Views

UK Launch of first Full Body PET Scanners  to boost Medical Discovery

Oct 10 2023

A £32 million total-body positron emission tomography (PET) imaging platform for drug discovery, the UK’s first-of-its-kind and supported through the UKRI Infrastructure fund, has been launched via a partnership between the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK.  

The National PET Imaging Platform (NPIP), comprising two full body PET scanners, provides crucial, non-invasive imaging techniques that can detect diseases' early onset with higher sensitivity than existing technology. It will provide never been seen before insights into anatomy, improving detection, diagnosis and treatment of complex, multi-organ diseases, enhancing the quality and speed of drug discovery.

Achieving a full-body field of view results in quicker scanning procedures, facilitating more patient scans over time periods while exposing them to considerably lower doses of radiation. This also means more patients, including children, can participate in clinical trials to improve researchers’ understanding of diseases.

This richer picture of human health will help to 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 German company Siemens Healthineers (Erlangen), the Biograph Vision Quadra PET/CT scanners, expected to be operational as soon as April 2024, will be situated in Scotland and London and jointly managed by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and by King’s College London and Imperial College London.

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.

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.”

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.”

Professor Alexander Hammers, Head of PET Imaging Centre, School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London, said: “The opportunity created by this national facility will build a springboard for the UK to lead the future of nuclear medicine. Through its onsite co-creation with industry partners and King’s academics, the PET Centre at St Thomas’ Hospital is uniquely located to respond to this challenge and create improved healthcare outcomes for our patients.”

Professor Eric Aboagye, Professor of Cancer Pharmacology & Molecular Imaging at Imperial College London, said: “We welcome this exciting new initiative, which we hope will greatly advance the UK’s clinical imaging research. With 40 times the sensitivity of conventional PET scans, whole-body PET will enable us to study what we couldn’t before, gaining new insights into paediatric disease, cancer screening, investigations into the brain-gut axis, whole-body vascular monitoring, cancer evolution, and cell tracking.”

Professor David Newby, Personal Chair – BHF Duke of Edinburgh Chair of Cardiology, University of Edinburgh, Co-Director of the NPIP Scotland Centre, said: “The Scotland total-body PET facility will bring together academics, industry and clinicians to create an integrated and accessible national PET facility for the benefit of patients across Scotland and the north of England. The total-body PET scanner will allow us to examine patients in ways that haven’t been possible before, propelling medical innovation and discovery, and ultimately improving the detection, diagnosis and treatment of complex diseases, including cancer.”

Dr David Lewis, Group Leader, University of Glasgow and Cancer Research UK Scotland Institute, Co-Director of the NPIP Scotland Centre, said: “Total-body PET scanners are a quantum leap forward in the technology of body scanning, and we are proud that a partnership between the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow will jointly manage one of the first of these cutting-edge scanners in the UK. The Scotland total-body PET scanner will be a catalyst for innovative new research and cross-sector collaboration, ultimately benefitting patients by improving our understanding of complex diseases.”

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."

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