LifeArc, the rebranded MRC Technology, is set to fund £500 ($652) million of medical research projects over five years under a plan announced June 15. LifeArc is benefiting from royalties owing from its development work on Merck's immuno-oncology drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab). In 2006, MRC Technology scientists at its Therapeutic Antibody Group, humanized the antibody for Organon Biosciences (Organon was subsequently acquired by Schering-Plough, which later merged into Kenilworth, New Jersey-based Merck). Last year, MRC Technology partially monetized that royalty stream to the tune of £115 ($150) million. “With the Keytruda money coming in, it was time for us to be totally independent,” says LifeArc's head of innovation and initiatives, David Pardoe. MRC Technology's work has also helped develop three approved drugs: Actemra (tocilizumab, for rheumatoid arthritis, from Genentech), Tysabri (natalizumab, for multiple sclerosis, from Biogen) and Entyvio (vedolizumab, for ulcerative colitis, from Takeda's Millennium Pharmaceuticals), and a test for antimicrobial resistance.

The name change to LifeArc and its revamped funding plan reflect London-based charity's evolution. It came into being in 2000 as the technology transfer arm of the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC). Since then, it has expanded the range of its activities to include over 50 organizations in addition to the MRC. With the new funding, the not-for-profit organization will place special emphasis on supporting early-stage work in antimicrobials, neuroscience, personalized medicine in oncology and respiratory diseases.

Pardoe adds that LifeArc's strong relationships with charities across the UK, the EU and the US place it in “a fantastic position to be able to fully understand the patient advocacy side of things.” LifeArc will organize projects informed by patient need and translate them into treatments pharma can then commercialize. “We are in a very unusual situation,” Pardoe says—trusted by charities, patient advocacy groups, by governments, by pharma and by academics. Future plans include launching two new funds—the Philanthropic and Seed funds—that will invest £30 ($39) million into academic research and early-stage therapeutics and biological research. It recently invested £20 ($26) million in a new drug discovery complex in Stevenage and a diagnostics development center in Edinburgh.

On July 14, UK Health Minister James O'Shaughnessy announced new government funding of up to £86 ($112 million), in another move aimed at accelerating UK patients' access to medical innovation and technology. The investment package includes £39 ($51) million to assess the new technologies' benefits and to support their clinical uptake; a £35 ($46) million “Digital Health Technology Catalyst” for innovators; up to £6 ($7.8) million over the next three years to help small and medium-sized enterprises develop real-world evidence showing the benefit of their technologies; and £6 million to help National Health Service organizations integrate new technologies into everyday practices.