The collaboration will pay for a team of biotech researchers who will work on developing bioinformatics, molecular modelling and enzyme evolution. They aim to discover faster ways of accessing new enzymes with the properties needed for scale-up chemistry.
Biocatalysis – the use of natural catalysts, such as protein enzymes – helps in the scale-up stage of pharmaceutical manufacturing. “The biocatalyst is the future for scale-up chemistry involving chirality, as it provides efficient, clean and robust processes,” said Almac Group’s head of Biocatalysis, Tom Moody.
Invest Northern Ireland, a trade mission, has contributed $2.3m to Almac in R&D help, partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Invest NI executive Jeremy Fitch said the investment in collaborative R&D was “good news” for Northern Ireland’s “growing life sciences sector.”
The principal investigator on the grant at Queens University Belfast said biocatalysis and industrial biotecehnology are becoming “critical drivers” in local and international economies. “This research project will help to build the knowledge base and expertise in these fields for both Almac Sciences and QUB,” said Chris Allen.
“The project also demonstrates how different subject areas in QUB - in this case Biological Sciences and Chemistry - can be combined to develop exciting new research opportunities."
The university’s team of researchers will include experienced computational and molecular biologists, including Meilan Huang (School of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering) and Leonid Kulakov (School of Biological Sciences).
The Almac-QUB deal will last three years, and will supply the pharmaceutical industry with APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients), as well as to flavour and fragrance, agrochemical and fine chemical sectors.
This expansion of Almac’s bioservices follows other collaborations in this area. The company previously partnered with DSM Pharmaceutical Products – the contract manufacturing arm of Royal DSM – to share each other’s enzyme technology portfolios. The deal focused on biocatalysis, specifically, as with Almac’s latest deal, on identifying and scaling up production of enzymes.
Almac also joined Queens University Belfast in 2013 in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership which added fermentation optimisation and scale-up to the CDMO’s biocatalysis offering.