RCSI success in SFI-Pfizer Biotherapeutics Innovation Award

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Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has announced funding of €1.9 million in a partnership with leading international pharmaceutical company Pfizer to encourage new biotherapeutic research in Ireland.

Supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation (DJEI), the SFI-Pfizer Biotherapeutics Innovation Award programme provides qualified academic researchers with an opportunity to deliver important potential discoveries in the areas of immunology and rare diseases. Five proposals in four academic institutions in Ireland have been identified to receive funding as part of the programme.

Professor Jochen Prehn, Head of the Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) was awarded funding to carry out research into Motor Neurone Disease, the devastating and fatal neurological condition with no cure. Professor Prehn's research will focus on developing a new therapy that it is hoped will increase patients' lifespan and motor function, leading to an increase in quality of life.

Researchers from RCSI along with Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and NUI Maynooth will have the opportunity to work with the Pfizer Global Biotherapeutics Technology (GBT) group, including at the Pfizer site at Grangecastle in Dublin. Their research will focus on the development of the next generation of potential protein therapies for diseases including haemophilia, fibrosis, Motor Neurone Disease, psoriasis, and Crohn's disease.

Professor Ray Stallings, RCSI Director of Research, said: "RCSI welcomes the announcement to provide to an RCSI project through the SFI-Pfizer Biotherapeutics Innovation Award programme. This is a fantastic achievement and I congratulate Professor Jochen Prehn and his team on this success. This award is strongly aligned with our recently announced research strategy ‘Excellence in Translational Research' which is aimed at bringing RCSI research closer to applications for the benefit of patients, the healthcare system and populations and to succeed in our mission to improve human health."

Speaking at an event at Pfizer in Grangecastle to announce the funding, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Mr Damien English TD, said: "A key element of the Government's Action Plan for Jobs is the development of dynamic partnerships with industry that leverage the knowledge-base of both the commercial and academic sectors, attract investment, and ultimately maintain and create jobs. This public-private collaboration between Ireland's leading research institutions and one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies has the potential to deliver significant break-throughs and have a real impact on society and the overall economy in Ireland."

Commenting on the announcement, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: "At the heart of SFI's Agenda 2020 strategy is the funding of excellent scientific research that may impact both society and the economy. Innovative partnerships between industry and academia are crucial if we are to continue to share knowledge that could lead to the development of new medical breakthroughs. This collaboration with Pfizer will enable the blending of expertise from five leading Irish academic researchers with Pfizer's drug discovery and development capabilities and could help deliver significant, accelerated advances in critical areas of biomedical research."

Dr William Finlay, Director of Global Biotherapeutics Technologies, Pfizer, said: "At Pfizer, we recognise that key to delivering potential therapies for patients is collaborating with other innovators in the health ecosystem in unique ways. Seeking the best research and with flexibility in how we partner, we are more focused on identifying, developing, and securing innovation in creative ways such as our collaboration with SFI. By establishing and fostering partnerships with academic thought leaders through SFI, it is hoped that we can help to accelerate the development of innovative biotherapeutic concepts for patients with unmet medical needs."