CRAIGAVON, Northern Ireland—Pharmaceutical developmentcompany Almac and Queen's University of Belfast joined forces in earlySeptember to co-develop tests for diagnosing and treating prostate, ovarian andbreast cancer.
"The initial focus is on the development of a prognostictest for prostate cancer, the development of technology to develop biomarkersfrom blood and the identification and development of novel drug targets" in thethree cancers, says Prof. Richard Kennedy, the McClay Chair of ExperimentalCancer Medicine at Queen's University. Kennedy also now has a joint appointmentat Almac.
The research initiative, based at the Centre for CancerResearch and Cell Biology at Queen's, will be led by Kennedy, one of Almac'sexperts in personalized medicine—which tailors specific treatment to eachcancer patient.
Kennedy explains the research will involve usingcutting-edge technology developed by Almac that will allow the partners toanalyze patient tumors collected by Queen's in quantity.
"Almac provides technological and bioinformatics expertiserequired in the analysis of archived human tumor samples for target andbiomarker identification," Kennedy says. "The organization also hasconsiderable expertise in the development of novel drug compounds through AlmacDiscovery, an independent member of the Almac Group focused on innovativeapproaches to the treatment of cancer."
The two organizations, according to Kennedy, have enjoyedsuccessful collaborations before now but this project is the first of its kind.
"As well as having a large archived tumor bank, Queen'sUniversity also has expertise in preclinical drug target and biomarker modelingas well as immunohistochemical biomarker development," he says. "The universityis also a leader in medicinal chemistry, particularly in fragment screeningapproaches."
In addition, Almac Group's U.K. headquarters and Queen'sUniversity are geographically close and have collaborated on projects in thepast such as in the development of a prognostic test for stage II colon cancerand in the identification of a novel anti-angiogenic cancer therapy.
The partners say that they will consider the pact successfulif they are able to identify at least two commercially viable biomarkers andtwo drug targets that enter the Almac biomarker and drug development pipelines.The projects will be run under project management from Almac and havewell-defined Go/No go criteria, goals and timelines.
Kennedy also points out the regional economic developmentbenefits of the partnership by pointing out that Almac has always demonstratedits commitment to education by funding several graduate student researchpositions. Full-time positions are also part of this collaboration.
"There are 10 posts immediately linked to the program butalso the possibility of expanding the number of jobs if the program iscommercially successful," he says.
Economic development officials in Northern Ireland haveexpressed their support for the project, pointing out that academic andindustry linkages are vital to economic growth, strengthening the knowledgebase and enhancing Northern Ireland's reputation as an international researchand development hub.
Invest Northern Ireland (NI) and the McClay Foundation arepartnering to fund the lab facilities and staff costs. Invest NI has committedfinancial support, which includes in part funding from the European RegionalDevelopment Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for NorthernIreland.
The Almac Group provides a range of pharmaceutical servicesfrom R&D, biomarker discovery and development, API manufacture, formulationdevelopment, clinical trial supply and IXRS technology, to commercial-scalemanufacture. Almac provides services to more than 600 companies in thepharmaceutical and biotech sectors.
While it is headquartered in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, itmaintains a North American headquarters in Souderton, Pa., and has sites inCalifornia and North Carolina.
The McClay Foundation, established in 2008 by Almac'sfounder, the late Sir Allen McClay in 2008, is a charitable trust which aims toadvance the use of diagnostic tools and drugs in the prevention, control andcure of the disease and to support and encourage research and innovation in thefield of healthcare across the globe, while promoting employment opportunitiesfor the people of Northern Ireland.