Pledges to drugs discovery centre take investment to £50m level

Sir Philip Cohen has welcomed the unusual longevity of the academic-industry partnership
Sir Philip Cohen has welcomed the unusual longevity of the academic-industry partnership
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Six of the world’s largest drug companies today announced a £14.4 million injection to fund research in Dundee that will develop treatments for diseases such as arthritis, cancer and Parkinson’s.

The funding boost will secure 50 posts for the next four years at the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT), which is described as a unique collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and scientists based at the University of Dundee.

Following today’s investment, the DSTT will have attracted £50m in funding since it was founded in 1998.

Along with AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, the DSTT is backed by German drugs group Boehringer Ingelheim, Belgium’s Janssen Pharmaceutica, Merck-Serono of Switzerland and US giant Pfizer.

Professor Sir Philip Cohen, co-founder and co-director of the DSTT, said: “Collaborations between academic laboratories and the pharmaceutical industry typically last a few years.

“Therefore, to maintain and expand support for the DSTT from 1998 until at least 2016 is unprecedented and remarkable. It shows how valuable the collaboration has been for the pharmaceutical industry.”

Professor Dario Alessi, who is due to become the body’s director in July, said the new funding “offers further potential for us to translate our recent research findings and ideas into new drug therapies for the treatment of many diseases”.

He added: “Renewal of this collaboration with six of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies is a vote of confidence in Dundee’s leadership position in biomedical research.”

The DSTT’s work focuses on speeding up the development of drugs aimed at treating major diseases, including cancer, hypertension and lupus, by targeting proteins in the body’s ubiquitin system and types of enzymes called kinases.

The market for these treatments is estimated to be worth £15 billion a year and is projected to reach £30bn a year by 2025.

Kinase research accounts for more than 50 per cent of spending on global cancer drug discovery. The drug Gleevec, which has transformed a previously fatal form of leukaemia into a manageable disease, is one example of a kinase-targeting drug that has been introduced to the market in recent years. Some 200 scientists and support staff work in this area at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Protein Phosphorylation Unit, Scottish Institute for Cell Signalling and the College of Life Sciences at Dundee, making it the world’s largest centre for the study of kinases and the ubiquitin system.

Malcolm Skingle of GlaxoSmithKline said: “This has been a very successful collaboration over the past 14 years, and we are delighted to see it continue. This project has shown the benefits that can come from pharmaceutical companies working hand-in-hand with top flight research at the University of Dundee.”

With more than 1,000 scientists, research students and support staff from 58 countries and external funding in excess of £30m a year, the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee is one of the largest life sciences research institutes in Europe.

Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, said: “The DSTT collaboration is a highly effective partnership that allows academic researchers to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies to maximise the translation of basic research towards clinical benefit.

“We are proud to continue our support of a project that is greatly accelerating pharmaceutical drug discovery programmes for major diseases.”