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Professor Michael Linden to lead new gene therapy research centre in London

Professor Michael Linden from the Division of Immunology, Infection & Inflammatory Disease and one of the leading scientists in gene therapy, is joining Pfizer to run a new genetics medicines research centre in London.

Professor Michael Linden has spent over 20 years researching the potential of certain viruses (‘adeno-associated viruses’) to transport genetic medicines into the body. Instead of delivering treatment through more commonly used small molecule or living (biologic) medicines, the gene-based treatment would be held within an inactive virus, taking advantage of the natural ability of viruses to enter cells. In theory, the treatment would then be produced inside the patient’s body by the cells, removing the need for the patient to repeatedly take medication.

Professor Linden explains further: 'Gene therapy is the term used to describe a treatment that alters or fixes an anomaly in the genes that causes illness. Unlike many other medicines, gene therapies have the potential to fix the root cause of illness, effectively offering a cure as opposed to managing the cause or lessening the symptoms. I am excited to join Pfizer’s Genetic Medicines Institute full-time where I will have the opportunity to continue to work in collaboration with my former colleagues at King’s College London, as well as other academic partners, in order to further research and ideally generate potential new medicines in this important area.'

This is of particular importance in conditions like rare diseases where over 80% have a genetic root.1 Rare diseases affect 3.5 million people in the UKbut unfortunately less than 5% of diseases have any approved therapy.2

Professor Linden has been supporting Pfizer in this area for 11 months on a secondment from King’s College London, but is now joining the company as a full-time Pfizer colleague. His core focus will be to evaluate the viability of producing effective, clinical grade gene therapy viruses at pace and scale. His team will also be actively examining the infrastructure behind gene therapy development, with the aim of adding insights and learnings to existing protocols and considerations. In addition, the Genetic Medicines Institute will seek to develop certain gene therapy pipeline projects in Pfizer’s portfolio.

Prior to joining Pfizer, Professor Linden was a Professor of Virology at King's College London Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine and Director of the University College London (UCL) Gene Therapy Consortium.  He trained in Molecular Virology at Cornell University Medical College, New York before moving to Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

1 Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: A decade of innovation in rare diseases. Available at http://www.phrma.org/sites/default/files/pdf/PhRMA-Decade-of-Innovation-Rare-Diseases.pdf Last accessed November 2015

2 Rare disease UK. Available at http://www.raredisease.org.uk/about-rare-diseases.htm Last accessed November 2015