Almac, Queen’s University announce £13 million investment in cancer research
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


Almac Discovery recently announced a £13million partnership with the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen's University Belfast to accelerate cancer-focused drug discovery in Northern Ireland.      
As part of the partnership, Almac have announced the scheduling of a Phase I clinical trial in ovarian cancer involving what is reportedly the first novel cancer drug fully developed in Northern Ireland: ALM201. This drug is a candidate derived from a natural protein originally discovered by a Queen's School of Pharmacy research team and developed by Almac Discovery in Craigavon. 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, is said to work via 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."
The partnership now comes out of successfully completed preclinical studies and a "significant milestone" as the drug has gets ready to enter Phase 1 clinical trials as 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 centers.      
In addition, the partnership announcement also involves the formal launch of the Almac/CCRCB joint program 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 vice president of discovery chemistry, Prof. Tim Harrison, has been appointed inaugural McClay Chair of Medicinal Chemistry and will head up the collaborative program.
"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," said Alan Armstrong, CEO of the Almac Group. "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, he said, and "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."  
"Queen's and Almac are recognised internationally as being leading innovators in the world of drug discovery and cancer research," added Prof. James McElnay, acting president and vice chancellor of Queen's. "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 maximized, that research is effectively commercialized 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."
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