An Enterprise Ireland-funded research centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology is working with the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs tackling conditions such as osteoarthritis and urinary incontinence with reduced side effects. Two patent applications will be submitted in the first quarter of this year in respect of novel chemical drug candidates.
The Ion Channel Biotechnology Centre which is being officially opened today (Tues, Jan 19) has already built up a reputation as a world-class centre of excellence with the largest number of researchers in this area at any single location in Ireland and the UK.
Regulating routine bodily functions, ion channels are effectively 'transport tunnels' found in every cell of the human body, making them critical to drug development and the assessment of drug side effects.
The Centre has already secured some €7.5m in funding from Ireland, the UK, Europe and the National Institutes of Health, the United States Government's medical research agency. It is one of 17 Enterprise Ireland-designated Applied Research Enhancement Centres and works on commercialising technologies developed at Dundalk's Smooth Muscle Research Centre where work commenced in 2005.
€2m from Enterprise Ireland has funded the development of chemistry and molecular biology facilities and allowed the team of almost 20 scientists to develop novel drug molecules, optimise sophisticated imaging equipment for industry and support the commercial development of drugs for human and animal consumption.
Martin Lyes, Head of Research & Innovation, Enterprise Ireland, said: "The launch of the Ion Channel Biotechnology Centre is highly significant - not only for the border region but for the wider Irish economy where the pharmaceutical industry is of such importance. This is the latest regional hub of research expertise funded through Enterprise Ireland's Applied Research Enhancement Centre programme which is central to the Government's drive to increase the levels of research and innovation at regional locations.
"It is very encouraging to note that multinational biopharmaceutical companies and smaller indigenous Irish operators are collaborating with the research team and making positive use of the world-class testing facilities," he continued.
Dr Mary Earle, the recently appointed manager of the Ion Channel Biotechnology Centre, said that with over €16 billion in sales generated annually by drugs that target ion channels, the sector is of major economic as well as health importance. "The Centre's work is part of a huge global industry and one that Ireland has a solid reputation in. Considerable potential exists for further development of this Centre to support industry in real and meaningful ways. In this, we are very fortunate to draw on a talented team led by the original Smooth Muscle Research Centre group of Prof Noel McHale; Dr Mark Hollywood; Dr Keith Thornbury and Dr Gerard Sergeant."
One of the Centre's industry collaborations is with Belfast-based Andor Technology which was a spinout company from Queen's University Belfast that has grown over the last 20 years to employ some 200 people serving customers in more than 50 countries. Andor has established a demonstration laboratory at the Centre for their high performance imaging and light measuring equipment.
Dr Colin Coates, Product Manager, Andor Technology, said: "The close relationship with this Irish research group operates at the cutting edge of low-light optical microscopy and is of high value to us in our drive to pioneer and validate state-of-the-art image detection technology for the biosciences. We look forward to continued partnership with the Centre."
Dr Timothy McCormac, Head of Research, Dundalk Institute of Technology, added: "The Institute's researchers have secured more than €25m of research funding in recent years from national and international sources with nearly a quarter of this underpinning research commercialisation activities.
"We are delighted to see such strong support from Enterprise Ireland for this innovative Centre and the work done there. With 12 of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies in the world having a substantial presence in this country, the Centre is meeting a critical need and the opportunity to collaborate within Ireland on the earliest stages of drug development can help the biotech sector here move further up the value chain.
"The establishment of the Ion Channel Biotechnology Centre is further evidence that the research undertaken by this Institute's talented pool of researchers is ensuring we play our part in underpinning Ireland's Smart Economy, which is key to the country's economic revival".
" Further information is available at www.icbc.ie
ENDS - January 19, 2010.
Media contact: Brian Nolan, Bance Nolan Ltd, (086) 8191730;
Photography: Niall Carroll, (086) 6081183.