Multi-million euro award boosts universities’ cancer research

New medical treatments for diseases could flow from SFI and Pfizfer backed research

The university groups that will share the payout include University College Dublin, University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. File photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

The university groups that will share the payout include University College Dublin, University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. File photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

New medical treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease and rare conditions could flow from a multi-million euro research award jointly funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and pharma giant Pfizer.

The money will back research conducted by three university groups in collaboration with Pfizer, looking at things such as skin inflammation, using the immune system to knock out cancer cells and blocking breast cancer resistance to chemotherapy.

The university groups that will share the award include University College Dublin, University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The researchers will become involved with some of Pfizer’s top scientists in the company’s Global Biotherapeutics Technology Group at its Irish centre at Grangecastle, Clondalkin and at its important Centers (stet) for Therapeutic Innovation in Massachusetts.

This is the second year of the SFI-Pfizer Biotherapeutics Innovation Award Programme and last year it backed five research groups.

SFI has put more than €3 million into the programme since it began. Pfizer did not disclose its in-kind investment citing commercial reasons but SFI described it as “substantial”.

The idea is to involve academic and private sector researchers in joint efforts to develop next generation therapies.

In particular these are for patients with “unmet needs”, for example a patient who fails to respond as expected to an existing cancer therapy.

The discoveries coming out of the programme would help “patients worldwide”, said acting Minister of State for Research, Damien English.

The Government continued to support programmes that offered opportunities in research and development in Ireland, something that also helped build the country’s reputation for research, he said.

The breakdown of the traditional divisions between academic and private sector researchers was an unexpected benefit from the programme, said Prof Padraic Fallon a TCD immunologist who won one of the 2015 awards.

“”The culture [change] is the real surprise,” he said. It broke down barriers and turned the group into true collaborators, he said.

The success of the programme after its first full year “is a reflection of the quality and relevance of academic scientific research in Ireland”, said SFI director general Prof Mark Ferguson.

Industry and academic collaborations were “critical” in early stage research, said Dr Paul Duffy of Pfizer.

It would help deliver breakthrough therapies that matter for patients in need, he said.

The 2016 list includes Prof Martin Steinhoff of UCD working on skin inflammation and chronic itch; Dr Anne Moore, UCC, who is using the body’s immune system to kill tumour cells; and Dr Leonie Young and Prof Arnold Hill, RCSI who are studying breast cancer resistance to chemotherapy.