Belfast Telegraph

US firm pays Craigavon pharma firm Almac £5.5m to sell breast cancer tests

Diagnostic kit hailed as a potential life-saver for over 200,000 patients

By Clare Weir

An American company has paid Craigavon pharma firm Almac £5.5m to develop and sell a potentially life-saving breast cancer test.

The DDRD test was developed by Almac's diagnostics business unit to help predict which patients are likely to benefit from chemotherapy, reducing unnecessary side-effects and drive cost-savings.

In the first such deal of its kind for the team, California-based Genomic Health has paid $9m for the rights to further advance and commercialise the diagnostic kit and will pay additional milestones and royalties to Almac as future development and commercialisation targets are met.

Experts say that up to 200,000 patients in the US and Europe could benefit from the new test, which will not be commercially available for at least another year while analysis is carried out.

Paul Harkin, president and managing director of Almac Diagnostics, said that Genomic Health will use its commercial expertise to advance work carried out in Northern Ireland.

"We see tests such as this one, devised in Craigavon over the last four years, having a significant impact on accelerating personalised healthcare – where individuals are matched with the treatments that will work best for them – thereby improving the clinical management of cancer patients," he said.

Chief executive of the Almac Group, Alan Armstrong, added: "This deal is extremely significant for Almac's diagnostic business unit and to the group as a whole.

"Not only is it the first of its size for the team, but the potential revenue streams could be game changing in enabling us to reinvest in further research by our staff in Craigavon."

Steven Shak, executive vice-president of research and development at Genomic Health, said: "Working with Almac, we have the opportunity to gain further insight on the role of DNA repair in drug efficacy, which may provide clinical utility to help select which breast cancer patients benefit from specific chemotherapy drugs and regimens."

The Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen's University Belfast collaborated with Almac on this project and the firm also received support from Invest Northern Ireland.

Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton said that Almac has proved that homegrown companies can compete and win business on a global scale.

"The company should be congratulated for its continued commitment to innovation, growth and export," he said.

"It is an excellent example of how, despite our size, Northern Ireland possesses the knowledge, skills and drive to succeed globally.

"Through research and development, companies can ensure they remain ahead of the competition and win new business as a result."

He added: "We would continue to encourage businesses of all sizes to consider research and development as a central part of their business."

BACKGROUND

Almac Group, headquartered in Craigavon, employs almost 3,000 people and includes 12 subsidiary companies, each with specialist interests in different pharmaceutical and biotechnology developments.

The company takes part in advanced research and development as well as forging commercial links with businesses that are market leaders in related sectors.

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