Investing, Innovating, Inspiring - - BioPharm International


Investing, Innovating, Inspiring

BioPharm International

Tim O'Brien, professor of medicine at NUI Galway, reports, "I'm a Corkman, and I returned to Ireland to take up a post with SFI. I had studied medicine in University College Cork, and for four years after I graduated I worked in Cork University Hospital. In 1988 I went to the US. There I worked for 13 years, mostly at the Mayo Clinic, where I had a post as a clinical investigator. I worked in the area of diabetes to enhance the care of those patients. About four years ago I started to look with glee at what was happening in Ireland. NUI Galway was setting up a number of clinical research posts, and the Program for Research in Third Level Institutions and Science Foundation Ireland had been established to fund individual researchers."

He continues, "I was appointed as professor of medicine at NUI Galway in 2001. The Ireland of 2001 was very different than the Ireland of 1988. There has been massive capital put into the hospital in Galway, there was a strategic research plan in place, and the individual environment for researchers had improved."

O'Brien goes on to note that when he returned to Ireland in 2001, there was a cluster of medical device companies in Galway that was the biggest in Europe. Moreover, there was an industrial partner, Medtronic, that he felt he could call at any time.

For CSET funding, O'Brien and his colleagues felt they were well-positioned, because they had a regular medical institute partner, as well as university and industry partners.

"That was the key to our success," he points out. "We also managed to attract another Corkman, Frank Barry, who had worked with stem cell technology for 14 years in the US, to return home."

Start-Up View

For potential biotech start-up companies in Ireland, much of the infrastructure is already in place. This infrastructure includes both facilities and talented scientists. The start-up company in Ireland is, therefore, launching its business within an existing and well-developed system.

One such business is Opsona Therapeutics Limited. Founded in March 2004, it is a campus company based at Trinity College, Dublin. Opsona Therapeutics is a drug development organization that focuses on the regulation of the human immune system and is identifying and developing new drugs and vaccines to treat and prevent autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Opsona's academic founders are among Ireland's leading immunologists, and are considered world leaders in their areas of expertise. One of them is Luke O'Neill, a professor and department head in biochemistry at Trinity College. He is also an SFI Fellow, whose research group focuses on the signaling processes involved in innate immunity.

According to O'Neill, "There are hundreds of researchers in the universities that were not there a few years ago. We need to capture that knowledge and put it into companies. There is an enormous amount of intellectual property coming out of Ireland's universities. I would continue to urge investors to contribute to venture capital funds. Funding start-ups is not easy, but it can be based on very good science."

Foreign Researcher's Viewpoint

John Pethica graduated from the University of Cambridge in the UK with a Ph.D. in physics. He was a staff scientist at Brown, Boveri & Co, Ltd, in Switzerland from 1980 to 1982 and held Fellowships at Cambridge from 1983 to 1987. He subsequently became professor of materials science at the University of Oxford.

Pethica moved to Ireland in 2001 and became a Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator at Trinity College, Dublin in December 2001. The recipient of numerous awards, he conducts research into nanomechanics and the manipulation and control of matter at the atomic and molecular scale, with application to novel devices and biological structures. His nano-science research has possible applications in biotechnology, medicine, and pharmaceuticals as well as in information technology.

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