Scots cancer researchers in deal with US drugs giant

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AMERICAN drugs giant Eli Lilly has sealed a deal with Edinburgh University to develop new ways to treat cancer, in the latest boost for Scotland’s growing life sciences sector.

Edinburgh Cancer Discovery Unit (ECDU) will give Lilly access to its cutting-edge biological models, which will help the drug company figure out how its chemical compounds work and which ones could be effective in fighting the disease.

The New York-listed group is the tenth-largest drugs maker in the world and turned over about £14 billion last year.

Elaine Sullivan, vice president of global external research and development at Lilly, said its researchers were working on a “diverse set of collaborations” to accelerate its drug discovery programme.

Neil Carragher, principal investigator at the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, added: “The collaboration provides an excellent opportunity to partner the latest innovations in cancer research from the ECDU with compounds from Lilly’s oncology pipeline.”

The deal is the latest in a series of partnerships brokered by Edinburgh BioQuarter, the commercialisation unit set up by NHS Lothian, Scottish Enterprise and the university.

The BioQuarter sealed its first deal in October 2011 with GlaxoSmithKline, Britain’s biggest pharmaceuticals maker.

Diane Harbison, head of business development at Edinburgh BioQuarter, said: “We are talking to other companies in the United States and Europe about partnerships and we hope to announce another two drug discovery deals before the end of the year.”

Scott Johnstone, chief executive of the Scottish Lifesciences Association (SLA) trade body, said: “A global company like Eli Lilly coming here is good news. It will help get the message across to other potential inward investors that Scotland is one of the best places to do business in life sciences.

“The challenge, as always, will be to ensure the economic benefit that should result from this welcome development spreads across the life sciences community in Scotland, and our members look forward to seeing that happen.”

Finance secretary John Swinney used the SLA’s annual dinner earlier this month to reveal the life sciences sector’s contribution to Scotland’s economy rose by 9 per cent year-on-year to £960 million in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.

Swinney said the number of people working in the sector rose by 18 per cent over the same period to 17,300.

Other BioQuarter deals have included work announced with Belgian firm Galapagos in June 2012 to work on anti-cancer drugs and with Sweden-based Galecto Biotech in October 2012 to study fibrosis.

Another partnership came in December 2012 with French medical device maker Mauna Kea Technologies to turn scientific research into a new way to diagnose lung diseases in seriously ill patients.

In July, US life sciences giant Biogen Idec sealed a three-year deal with academics to develop drugs for multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease.

Lilly has a long-standing association with Britain’s drugs industry. The firm opened its first overseas office in London in 1934 and its first manufacturing facility outside the US at Basingstoke in 1939.

In 1963, Lilly bought its factory at Speke from The Distillers Company, the FTSE 100 constituent that was taken over by Guinness in 1986 to form United Distillers.