Almac Group and Queen's University, Belfast Announce £13 Million Investment in Cancer Research

05 September 2013 -- 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." 

- Almac Discovery is an independent member of the Almac Group. The company is focused on the discovery and development of novel and innovative approaches to the treatment of cancer and associated conditions. Almac Discovery is located in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. For more information, please visit

- ALM201 is a fragment of a natural protein discovered in the School of Pharmacy at Queen's by a research team led by Professor Tracy Robson. The compound was developed jointly by Almac Discovery in Craigavon and Professor Robson. 

- The ALM201 trial will involve up to 60 patients who are being treated for ovarian cancer. It will be led by Dr Richard Wilson, Director of the Northern Ireland Clinical Trials Unit at Queen's. Rather than attacking tumours directly, ALM201 prevents the growth of new blood vessels in tumours, starving them of oxygen and nutrients and thereby preventing their growth. It targets tumours by an entirely different pathway to other treatments currently approved.

- The new Almac Discovery/CCRCB drug discovery joint programme in Cancer Drug Discovery will see the discovery team work to identify parts of tumours which are susceptible to treatment by cancer drugs and to then develop the new drugs to target them. The partnership will also enable new approaches to selecting those patients who will be most likely to respond to the new drugs, and to create the technologies needed to deliver the drugs directly to the tumour site in the patient.

- Alan Armstrong joined Galen Research Laboratories in 1978 in the quality control department where he took over as Quality Assurance Manager in 1982. Alan held a number of senior management operational and technical positions until 1995 when he was appointed to the Board of Directors of Galen Holdings Plc as Chief Operating Officer. In 2002 he retired from Galen Holdings and was appointed CEO of Almac. Alan oversees the entire Group's operations globally and leads the strategic direction of Almac. 

- Professor Tim Harrison joined Almac Sciences in 2006 as Vice President, Research and Development. He played a key role in setting up Almac Discovery where he currently holds the post of Vice President, Discovery Chemistry. In 2011 Tim played a leading role in the development of a joint collaborative programme with Queen's University Belfast, which focused on the identification of new oncology targets together with drug leads.

- The Almac/CCRCB collaboration was born out of this programme in 2013 and included the creation of the McClay Chair of Medicinal Chemistry. Tim is the inaugural holder of this chair and now splits his time between this academic role and his Almac position.

- The Almac Group is an established contract development and manufacturing organisation that provides an extensive range of integrated services to over 600 companies globally within the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. The services range from R&D, biomarker discovery and development, API manufacture, formulation development, clinical trial supply, IXRS® technology (IVRS/IWRS) through to commercial-scale manufacture. The international company is a privately owned organisation that has organically grown over 30 years and now employs in excess of 3,300 highly skilled personnel. Almac is headquartered in Craigavon, Northern Ireland with US operations based in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and California. 

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