Eagle Genomics and the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC) have been awarded a £1.7m grant from Innovate UK for a project to develop tests and treatments for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The disease (NAFLD), an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol, affects 25% of the world’s population. Strongly linked to type II diabetes and obesity, it is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in developed countries and there is no approved treatment. Chronic liver disease is now the third most common cause of premature death in the UK.

The progressive form of NAFLD, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), usually precedes liver fibrosis, liver cancer and premature death. Early recognition of the disease, monitoring progression, and effective treatment in patients is urgently required in order to reduce deaths from end-stage liver disease.

Using Eagle Genomics e[automateddatascientist] platform as the foundation, the Innovate UK funding will be used to develop SteatoSITE, a Data Commons, a unified data system that allows sharing of genomic and clinical information from patients with NASH, making it more accessible for further research. The Data Commons, which will be the first in the world for NASH, will lead to a deeper understanding of which tests and treatments are most effective for individual patients.

As more data is added, the Data Commons will evolve into a smarter, more comprehensive knowledge system that will assist important discoveries in chronic liver disease and increase the success of treatments for patients.

The Data Commons project will be led by SMS-IC’s industry partner, Eagle Genomics, an AI augmented knowledge discovery company. It will also involve partners at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, NHS Scotland and Glasgow and Edinburgh’s MRC Molecular Pathology Nodes. The collaboration brings together world-class clinical expertise, data and access to research samples.

The project will involve genetic sequencing of 1000 liver biopsy samples from within the NHS Scotland’s biorepository network by Edinburgh Genomics, a leader in DNA sequencing and genomics based at Edinburgh University. This new data will be combined with information from imaging, clinical and electronic health records.

Diane Harbison, chief executive of Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre, said: “SMS-IC is uniquely placed to deliver transformational health projects such as this one.

“Scotland is a world leader in terms of the health data it has available, and this project is a great example of making most of this data in order to identify successful treatments and improve our ability to ensure each patient gets the right treatment.

“NAFLD is a massive health problem which affects large swathes of the population, not just in Scotland but globally, and there is a desperate need for potential treatments.  Taking a stratified approach – ensuring treatments are targeted based on each individual patient’s genes – means they are more likely to be successful.”

Dr Jonathan Fallowfield, senior clinical research fellow and principal investigator, at Edinburgh Univefsity’s MRC Centre for Inflammation Research, added: “Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a silent epidemic with no approved treatment. Sharing information through this new data repository will be transformative for research efforts to better understand the disease. It will help to pinpoint patients at high risk of disease progression and will speed up the development of new therapies.”

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, vice principal and head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences (MVLS) at Glasgow University said: “The SMS-IC is one of the University’s key collaborative partnerships to further precision medicine in Scotland, and so on behalf of myself and everyone at the College, I am delighted to support this latest investment and the ongoing success of the SMS-IC.

“The work of the SMS-IC, and indeed this latest collaborative project, exemplifies the University’s ethos of the ‘triple helix’ partnership between the NHS, University and industry.”

Abel Ureta-Vidal, chief executive of Eagle Genomics, commented: “This collaboration and funding is a great opportunity to further demonstrate the versatility of our e[automateddatascientist] platform to support translational sciences in the biomedical research field.

“Our platform is already deployed in other areas of life sciences research and development, such as animal health, personal care and cosmetics, food and crop sciences. This project will showcase its ability to accelerate innovation for pharmaceutical industry customers, to extend its use to other therapeutic areas of interest and play a key role in the digital reinvention of the Life Sciences research and development.”