Business

Deals to develop drugs worth more than £230 million

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NORTHERN Ireland's status as a hub for drugs development and cancer treatment was confirmed with two multi-million pound deals announced yesterday.

Almac Discovery is set to collaborate with US firm Genentech to develop new drug molecules for treating cancer - in a tie up which could be worth well over $350 million (£225m).

Meanwhile, Queen's University, Belfast announced a £5.5m partnership with California-based CV6 Therapeutics to research and develop drugs to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

The deals will provide a massive economic boost to the north, safeguard hundreds of jobs and have the potential to transform the lives of those suffering from cancer.

Almac's new class of drug molecules are considered a "major breakthrough" in an area of drug development that has proven extremely difficult.

The molecules block the activity of an important cancer pathway which has been a focus of biotech and pharmaceutical companies for more than a decade, and which is believed to play a key role in tumour development.

Almac Discovery will receive an upfront payment of $14.5m (£9.3m) and will be eligible for up to $349m (£225m) in milestone payments over the two-year programme.

And that's before tiered royalties on potential commercial sales of multiple products by Genentech come into play.

Tim Harrison, vice-president drug discovery, Almac Discovery said it had been developing a "highly sought after, yet elusive drug class, proving difficult to identify despite significant efforts from both pharmaceutical and biotech companies".

Almac Discovery president Stephen Barr, President Almac Discovery, added: “Genentech is an undoubted leader in oncology development and this, coupled with their in-depth knowledge in the USP area, is the perfect complement for us."

Genentech senior vice-president James Sabry said: "We're pleased to initiate this collaboration with Almac Discovery where we hope to discover and develop therapies targeting an important USP that can potentially advance the standard of care for patients with cancer."

Meanwhile, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen's has linked up with CV6 Therapeutics in California.

The collaboration to develop drugs to make chemotherapy more effective has been backed by £2.5m from Invest NI and will create 10 new jobs.

CV6 CEO Dr Robert Ladner said: "The R&D we will undertake during this project has the potential to significantly improve chemotherapy treatments in a wide range of cancers by overcoming key resistance pathways associated with these cornerstone drugs and in turn deliver significant economic benefits and advancements in cancer treatments worldwide.

“The quality and availability of specialist skills here and the strong links we have forged with Queen's University were key factors when we chose Northern Ireland as the location for this project. Northern Ireland offers a wealth of talented and knowledgeable people, some of whom have already played a vital role in our progress to date."

CCRCB director Professor David Waugh added: "Resistance to chemotherapy drugs is a major factor in the failure of many forms of chemotherapy and the collaboration with CV6 will seek to deliver innovative new therapeutic approaches to tackle this problem. Importantly, the work stemming from this investment will provide further hope to many cancer patients, locally and globally.”

Chief executive of Invest NI Alastair Hamilton said the investment would have a knock-on economic effect,

“This project not only has the potential to result in advancements in cancer treatment worldwide but will deliver significant supply chain economic benefits to Northern Ireland of £1.85m," he said.

"This is a very positive announcement for the life sciences sector in Northern Ireland and is a further endorsement of Northern Ireland's strengths in precision medicine and oncology research.”

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