Almac and Queen’s University, Belfast announce £13 million investment in Cancer Research

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Almac Discovery has announced a £13million partnership with the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) to accelerate cancer-focused drug discovery in Northern Ireland.

As part of the partnership, Almac have announced the scheduling of a phase 1 clinical trial in ovarian cancer, involving the first novel cancer drug fully developed in Northern Ireland.  ALM201 is a drug candidate derived from a natural protein originally discovered by a Queen’s School of Pharmacy research team led by Professor Tracy Robson, and developed by Almac Discovery in Craigavon in collaboration with Professor Robson. It is an anti-angiogenic drug which works by preventing the growth of new blood vessels thereby inhibiting tumour growth.

ALM201, unlike most other anti-angiogenic therapies on the market, works by an entirely new mechanism and consequently has the potential to treat a wider range of patients than currently possible, including those resistant to existing therapies. With pre-clinical studies successfully completed, the drug has reached a significant milestone as Phase 1 clinical trials are scheduled to begin in early 2014. The three year trial will be led by Dr. Richard Wilson, Director of the Northern Ireland Clinical Trials Unit at Queen’s and managed by Almac Discovery. It will be run from Belfast and two other UK based clinical trial Centres.

Today also marked the formal launch of the Almac/CCRCB joint programme in Cancer Drug Discovery which will bring scientists from Almac and researchers from the CCRCB together to translate research discoveries into treatments for patients.  As part of this partnership, Almac’s VP Discovery Chemistry, Professor Tim Harrison has been appointed inaugural McClay Chair of Medicinal Chemistry and will head up the collaborative programme.

Alan Armstrong, CEO of the Almac Group explains; “We are delighted that the innovative ALM201 drug candidate for cancer treatment has completed pre-clinical studies and will soon be commencing Phase 1 clinical trials.  Almac and Queen’s have already demonstrated through the creation and development of ALM201 how valuable and productive such a world class partnership between academia and industry can be.

By integrating academic and clinical researchers with experienced industrial scientists, we have the means to accelerate cancer focused drug discovery towards the ultimate goal of improving patient care. A team of 17 Almac scientists will be seconded to Queen’s for three years and the combined unit will create a coordinated drug discovery and development pipeline. Resultant products will then continue their development journey with other appropriate partners towards patient-enriched trials and ultimately commercial production. This single-location integrated approach puts the initiative at a distinct advantage and reflects Northern Ireland’s aim to compete more effectively as a modern knowledge based economy.”

Professor James McElnay, Acting President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s, added: “Queen’s and Almac are recognised internationally as being leading innovators in the world of drug discovery and cancer research.  Today’s announcement, therefore, heralds an important new era for patients. Our newest collaboration will also result in an increase in the development of potential new therapeutic approaches for patients, and accelerate the process in which treatments move from the lab bench to bedside.”

Speaking during a visit to the CCRCB, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster said: “Almac is a highly respected and successful drug development company focusing on innovative cancer treatments that have global potential. This significant investment in R&D will enhance collaboration between academia and industry, ensuring that the investment is maximised, that research is effectively commercialised and that ultimately, enhanced treatment solutions are made available to cancer patients. The fact that such ground-breaking research is taking place here in Northern Ireland is something that we should be extremely proud of. It will reinforce our position as a leader in research and development for the health and life sciences sector.”