Almac Discovery: Using “Deep, rich and good science” to find partners in oncology and inflammation

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Video title: Almac Discovery: Using “Deep, rich and good science” to find partners in oncology and inflammation
Released on: June 08, 2012. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed at BioTrinity 2012, Paul Larsmon talks to Robert Grundy, Director of Commercial Development and Licensing, Almac Discovery
Almac Discovery : Therapeutic focus and services
Paul Larsmon :
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review. On this program I've got Robert Grundy, who is Director of Commercial Development and Licensing at Almac Discovery . Rob, tell me little bit about the company, its history and background?
Robert Grundy:
So Almac Discovery is essentially an oncology focused biotechnology company, but it exists on the foundation of the Almac Group which is a very well established and successful service company based around provision services with pharmaceutical industry. The service company Almac Group have interests in diagnostics, contract manufacturer predominantly clinical services and in 2008 Allen McClay, who was the owner of the Almac Group decided to set up a company that was therapeutically focused to develop our own products for the eventual (indiscernable) of oncology , so we bought a management team together in 2008 in order to do that through initially licensing products but ultimately through development of our own therapeutics, through target and identification validation and so that's allowed us over the past four or five-years to build up a team of about 30 folks that has a focus on discovery biology and medicinal chemistry allowing us to identify targets, validate them and prosecute them through lead optimization and preclinical development where we sort to outsource some of the functions there through our project management facility and then take them through to the latest the early stages of clinical development so Phase I or Phase IIa and then we will look to commercialize them. So our commercialization model is to seek partners somewhere between preclinical candidate selection and Phase IIa and so it's very much in the earlier stages of drug development and what we believe we are really value in that kind of discovery and early development piece based around the fact that we can tap into the resources that we have within the wider group and cut our manufacture into the diagnostic piece which is increasingly important in drug development.
Robert Grundy's role and responsibilities as Director of commercial development and licensing
Paul Larsmon :
You're called Director of Commercial Development and Licensing it sounds really obvious what that means, but what exactly is your role?
Robert Grundy:
So my primary responsibility is the commercial development of Almac Discovery , so it's taking it's building the pipeline through management of in-licensing in the first instance but more recently through out-licensing and locating the relevant partners for the projects that we have in there the discovery and development pipeline and trying to find the best ways to move forward commercially so either in-licensing, or co-development, or partnering increasingly there are a number of more flexible ways in which you can move assets forward through to the clinical development, but also there needs to be a sound commercial basis for that, so a lot of risk a tendency to partnering meeting would also when we find the partners negotiating the contracts and making sure that everyone is happy in terms of the commercial basis on which we move the drug discovery and development projects fall into the clinic.
Paul Larsmon :
How does a BioPartnering Conference like this work for you?
Robert Grundy:
Always it's vital for us in terms of this key facility for us to interface with the potential partners, there is a lot of drug discovery activity and development activity out there in the world and trying to relate with the right people is gonna be a challenge so when you get the opportunity five, six, seven times a year to come to these events where it's all organized for you and its made very easy for you to interface with the right kind of people that's tremendously important for us. It's important for us particular Almac Discovery because we're based in Northern Ireland which has its advantages but also it means that we are not necessarily in a biotech home such as Cambridge or Oxford and so we need this kind of facility in order to make sure that we are plugged in to the biotech community globally and it works very well for us.
Products in pipeline and project on IBD
Paul Larsmon :
Now you've got a number of drugs in the pipeline, tell us a little bit about them?
Robert Grundy:
So, yes its right, I guess our lead products in terms of clinical development is the nasal formulation of granisetron which we brought in licensed from Archimedes Pharma [PharmaDeals ID = 47000] a few years ago and it's through a Phase I study and it then licensed on for the North America and European markets with North American partner. We are still looking for partners in the rest of the world for what we think is a really interesting product that delivers real value for patients with chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting . Behind that we have a fascinating peptide tubulin inviting peptide which acts as a inhibitor of angiogenesis, so the angiogenesis space is a very interesting and quite populated area but what we found through a collaboration with Queen's University Belfast [PharmaDeals ID = 42896] is a molecule or peptide which is tremendously potent at inhibiting tubulin formation in the cytoplasm of migrating epithelial cells so cells that are creating new blood vessels and that is achieved through those cells activated CD44, the peptide binds the CD44 and its internalized and allows it to bind to cytoplasmic tubulin not nuclear tubulin which means its non-cytotoxic but very potent, so it's a first-in-class novel mechanism of action anti-angiogenic that we are taking into Phase I in December. Behind that we have a an Akt inhibitor program which is focused on allosteric inhibition of Akt we've taken the subtype cell activity approach here just to try and unburden some of the cell activity, the pan selectivity issues that may be some of the more developed programs in the Akt area have and we are very excited about this and we have a number of different options for subtype cell activity and we are looking to select a preclinical candidate in December, so that opportunity is also available for partnering so moving forward. We also have another project which is slightly away from our oncology focus but is of real value we think and that's gonna over collaboration with the Karolinska Institute in a company called ITH [PharmaDeals ID = 32966] which is spin out of the Karolinska Institute driven by a group of very talented immunologists there and it's based around the development of a Leukapheresis device for the treatment of in the first instance IBD and we've just completed a Phase I trial in ulcerative colitis where we found it to be safe and also show some efficacy in terms of its patient outcome and it's a very small Phase I but it's very encouraging, this is a very novel way to treat IBD but because of the basis of its removal specifically of a specific type of inflammatory cell that drives the pathology of IBD , we believe that we can take that concept and point it towards other inflammatory conditions that are driven by specific cell types which we can remove by tailoring the Leukapheresis column to remove cell types.
Paul Larsmon :
How did you come across that kinda given that you, as you said you had previously concentrated on cancer ?
Robert Grundy:
Sure, well I guess the origin of that lies with Almac's founder Allen McCLay who had numerous collaborators in the area but was very close to the guys at the Karolinska Institute and they alerted him to an opportunity where by some of the talented immunologists I mentioned before were working on this adaption of Leukapheresis concept and he Allen had a very keen eye for an opportunity in terms of patient therapy and he saw this and he saw the real potential for the franchise and to build the concept into two multiple disease areas and so he took the opportunity to invest at that time and then brought the knowledge from the Almac Group into help them with the peptide engineering in the first instance and now with the commercial development of the one going forward to the clinic.
Fundings and growth strategy
Paul Larsmon :
We're talking about the investment how have you managed to fund your drug development so far?
Robert Grundy:
So I guess Almac Discovery is quite a unique company in terms of its funding, we're part of the Almac Group so we do enjoy significant funding based from the revenue from the service group which is great, but also we enjoy funding from Invest Northern Ireland [PharmaDeals ID = 42896], so within Northern Ireland we were working hard to build the knowledge based economy and Invest Northern Ireland see Almac, the Almac Group and Almac Discovery as a key part of that going forward, so for the first phase and then do the second phase now of our Almac Discovery's growth we've enjoyed significant funding from Invest Northern Ireland which combined with the funding from the Almac Group has allowed us to move very quickly forward with the development of our drug discovery and development portfolio, but also gives us the freedom to do very deep rich and good science that isn't be holding to the influence of investors who were necessarily looking for a short-term return. So the company isn't set up for a trade sale, we aren't looking for an IPO, what we are looking to do is build the portfolio of drug development products and projects that we can partner and create revenue in that way we continue to do so and so we do that on the basis of very diligent science and very broad drug discovery projects that we think will be more appealing to potential partners, but also give the projects more longevity.
Colloboration with Queen's University Belfast
Paul Larsmon :
And are universities and similar institutions important to you going forward?
Robert Grundy:
Absolutely yes, so the ALM-201 the anti-angiogenic project I've mentioned before was a result of a collaboration with Queen's University Belfast [PharmaDeals ID = 42896] and Professor Tracy Robson's group there originated the products through the discovery of FKBPL which is an indulgence human protein that they discovered to be a potent anti-angiogenic, so we developed that from a collaboration with Queen's . Also with Queen's we have very interesting projects that again is being funded significantly by Invest Northern Ireland that of over 4 million pounds in trying to exploit the ubiquitin system to identify potential drug candidates for oncology and that is a really exciting area of biology that's being prosecuted by a increasing number of companies, smaller companies but also big pharma are becoming increasingly interested in it and so through this collaboration with the scientist at Queen's University Belfast, Almac Discovery and other members of the Almac Group are coming together to try and identify drug candidates and validate candidates from the ubiquitin system to take forward for drug discovery and development.
Future plans
Paul Larsmon :
Finally, we just had the glad tidings that the UK is in a double-dip recession how is a small or actually growing biotech like yours weather the storm?
Robert Grundy:
Well we, again we are in a unique position because we are driven by funding, governmental funding and also funding from the Almac Group, so our continued funding stream is depended on the performance of the group, the Almac Group and because the Almac Group is diversified I think it's in a position to absorb some of the vagaries of the prevailing economic conditions, some parts of the business perform well, well others perhaps are to a certain extent falling victim of some of the constraints people spending around the industry, but it all bounces out because we are a diversifying group, now also clearly the availability of government funding even in the region such as Northern Ireland which is a particular focus for government funding for to build a knowledge based economy that funding isn't infinite and we realize that is government spending it's time then that will impact on us. So it's really behold on upon those in Almac Discovery to find more creative ways to do business, look to different geographies where the far east is an important area for us try to understand the needs of potential partners in places like China, and Korea, and India where the economic conditions are really bit more favorable and just try to be a little bit smarter in terms of how we commercialize drug development going forward.
Paul Larsmon :
Well Grundy, from Almac Discovery thank you very much for joining us.
Robert Grundy:
Thank you.
Paul Larsmon
Paul Larsmon has worked as a broadcast television journalist for 25 years, covering general news, business and politics. He has been both presenter and producer in several news broadcasters, including the major British television news company ITN. He joined PharmaTelevision as Executive Producer earlier this year and has been responsible for getting PTV News launched.
Robert Grundy
At the time of recording this PTV interview Robert Grundy serves as Director of Commercial Development and Licensing at Almac Discovery Ltd. Following completion of his BSc Hons in pharmacology at the University of Liverpool, Rob received his Ph.D from Manchester University and after a post-doctoral fellowship at Manchester moved to Schering-Plough in Milan as a Senior Scientist. At Schering-Plough he was involved in target validation and drug discovery projects. He moved from there to GlaxoSmithKline in the NGI CEDD at Harlow as a Principal Scientist where he led multi-disciplinary drug discovery teams and became involved in Business Development strategy. In October 2006 Rob accepted the post of Chief Scientific Officer with Cerebricon, a preclinical CRO based in Finland but with activities in the UK. At Cerebricon Rob was responsible for the scientific output, client liaison and quality control and was involved in business development and fund raising activity. He joined Almac Discovery in May 2008, where he is Director of Research Alliances, leading the business development activities, which are currently focused on strategic development of the portfolio and identifying appropriate partners for clinical development of Almac Discovery assets. Rob is a visiting Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology at King's College, London.
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Almac Discovery Ltd
Almac Discovery Ltd is an independent member of the Almac Group, focused on the discovery and development of novel and innovative approaches to the treatment of cancer and associated conditions. Since its launch in 2008 Almac Discovery has built a portfolio of therapeutic projects that promise to make a real difference to lives of cancer patients. Although Almac Discovery is a relatively young company, it has already taken programmes through all stages of early drug discovery and development from target finding to Phase I clinical trials. This is reflected in the current pipeline. A combination of an experienced management team and state of the art facilities based in the UK make Almac Discovery Ltd ideally placed to make a difference in the oncology space and an ideal partner for the discovery and development of new therapeutics.