From Ireland with love

ICON partners with University College Dublin to advance genetic analysis and clinical research

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DUBLIN, Ireland—A strategic partnership between ICON PLC andUniversity College Dublin (UCD) came about through a "shared vision fortransforming research, teaching, training and innovation in the sciences inIreland," according to Simon Holmes, executive vice president of marketing andmarket development at ICON. The results are likely to have an impact welloutside that country's borders.
Described by Dr. Hugh Brady, president of UCD, as "a modelfor industry-academia collaborations," the partnership brings together one ofthe world's largest contract research organizations (9,200 employees operatingout of 82 offices in 40 countries) with one of Europe's leading researchuniversities (25,000 students, including nearly one third of all the scienceand engineering Ph.D. students in Ireland). It combines ICON's capability andexpertise to conduct clinical trials and development projects on global basiswith UCD's leading-edge scientific knowledge and discovery, Holmes believes. 
"We see this as an opportunity for joint collaboration onareas including research, tailored teaching programs and internships inclinical research that will be available in Ireland and internationally throughsome of UCD's university partners and innovation, to develop new solutions forour clients that help them overcome critical drug development challenges," saysHolmes.
According to Ciaran Murray, CEO of ICON, "it is importantthat we continue to develop our scientific capabilities and build a pool oftalent that can support our growth plans. Bridging the ties between industryand academic research through our partnership with UCD supports both of theseobjectives. UCD is at the leading edge of scientific knowledge and discovery inIreland and shares ICON's commitment to innovation. The partnership is built oncreating an environment that will inspire future generations to engage inscience, supporting Ireland's efforts to develop as an important center for researchand development." 
A key area of collaboration is genetic analysis. While thatdiscipline has been revolutionized by whole-genome association, many variantsof unknown function have been revealed, Holmes explains, adding, "This createsa bottleneck for scientists, who then spend many years in the laboratory tryingto work out what these variants are doing." 
As part of the strategic partnership, ICON has establishedthe ICON Newman Fellowship in Genomics at UCD. The prestigious two-year,postdoctoral fellowship based in the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Scienceand the UCD Complex and Adaptive Systems Laboratory (CASL) will focus onvariants of known function. It will be "relying on information regarding theexpression of the genes altered by the variant, and on information regardingthe potential of the variant to alter the sequence—and therefore, the structureor function—of the protein itself that is encoded by the gene," saysHolmes. 
The subset of variants that are identified computationallywill then be tested in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Thisresearch will provide "an important alternative strategy for advancing diseaseunderstanding using modern genetics approaches," according to Holmes.
Brady adds, "The Newman Fellowship Program is vital to UCD'slong-term commitment to support world-class research across a wide spectrum ofdisciplines. It enables the university to expand the boundaries of existingknowledge and to benefit the Irish and global economy, while fostering valuablepartnerships with industry and the wider community. UCD is at the forefront ofscientific research and innovation, and partnerships such as this are anexample of how industry and academia can combine their expertise in support ofthe national economic agenda."
The first recipient of the Newman Fellowship is Colm J.Ryan. Originally a software developer, Ryan received a Ph.D. in bioinformaticsand will now conduct research into the control of gene expression by inheritedvariants, focusing on cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Ryan is beingmentored by Prof. Denis Shields and Dr. Sean Ennis and based in the UCD Schoolof Medicine and Medical Sciences and the CASL, Holmes says.
ICON will also become a lead benefactor of the new UCDScience Centre, a 67,000-square-meter building that will be home to Ireland'slargest science community. Finally, the partners will collaborate to exploreways of enhancing drug development that has the potential to include tailoredteaching programs and internships in clinical research that will be availablein Ireland and internationally through some of UCD's university partners.

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