University College Cork – A Crucial Part of Ireland’s Winning Strategy




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Video title: University College Cork – A Crucial Part of Ireland’s Winning Strategy
Released on: July 29, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this week’s edition of the Regional Report, Fintan Walton speaks with Anita MaGuire, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University College Cork. Anita discusses the positive changes brought about by the introduction of the School of Pharmacy in 2003, including the strong collaboration which now exists between her students and the pharmaceutical industry. Supported by a well-developed country-wide strategy which is driven heavily by the IDA Ireland, the former gap between academia and industry is closing rapidly and providing Ireland with an edge in both fundamental research and R&D, adding to its already formidable leadership in manufacturing. Today’s students, says Anita, must not only excel in the entire spectrum of fundamental research methods for producing compounds, but must be well-versed in the regulatory environment and have experience working in the pharmaceutical industry. One of the largest clusters of pharmaceutical companies in the world, Ireland is able to offer targeted programmes to ensure this collaborative effort with on-campus confidential research projects for Novartis, Eli Lilly, GSK, Pfizer and others. Anita goes on to share that as part of Ireland’s strategy, it is rapidly increasing its ability to carry out late-stage process development within Ireland. This coupled with Ireland’s strength in manufacturing enables it to deliver products to market faster, and better still, brings Ireland closer to the late-stage decision-making processes thus pushing Ireland up the value chain.
Training programs offered at University College Cork.
Fintan Walton:
Welcome to The Regional Report here live in Dublin, Ireland. On this show I have Anita MaGuire, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University College Cork. Welcome to the show Anita.
Anita MaGuire:
Thank you very much Fintan.
Fintan Walton:
Anita MaGuire, you are the Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and your remits stretches from Chemistry all the way to pharmacy, and pharmacy is a relatively new department?
Anita MaGuire:
Yes, I suppose I have been a member of academic staff in the University College Cork since 1991 and with the rapid expansion of the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland it became key of the developing a school of pharmacy in University College Cork was strategically very important. So we were delighted. We opened a new school of pharmacy just five-years ago. And at that time my position I joined department between the Department of Chemistry and the School of Pharmacy, because we felt it was very important given the links with pharmaceutical industry in Ireland that we develop chemistry and pharmacy in partnership.
Fintan Walton:
So, clearly one of the important thing you talked about how it is strategically important it is. Universities play two roles in a way, they provide a skill set and they also provide a centre for scientific excellence. Tell us about the graduate and the post graduate training or skills that are developed at University College Cork?
Anita MaGuire:
Okay. Given our location at the centre of one of the largest clusters of pharmaceutical companies in the world we clearly see our mission at in terms of delivering graduates who are destined and all prepared for careers in pharmaceutical industry, it's very important to us. So we have targeted undergraduate programs which develop the specific skill sets that graduates need when they go into the pharmaceutical industry so that they have the fundamental scientific training with an addition they understand the regulatory environment, they understand the specific requirements which relate to the pharmaceutical industry and we achieve this in a number of ways, we would have placements for the under graduates in industry where they would spend the summer working in a company as part of their under graduate program so that they get the first hand experience.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Anita MaGuire:
We also bring people in from industry to teach the undergraduates both specialist topics like the regulatory affairs, topics that we wouldn't be experts on. So there is a lot of interchange of ideas. At post graduate level obviously the fundamental focus is on developing their scientific excellence, but at the same time we also integrate elements of interaction with industry. So there are PhD students who would often spend three months working with one of the pharmaceutical companies locally. So our intention is we give them the fundamental scientific training, but then we target and we hone their skills, which means that once they go into the industry, they are up and running very quickly.
Fundamental research at the Departments.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Could you tell us little bit about the fundamental research that's going on inside your two Departments?
Anita MaGuire:
Yes. My own research group is focused fundamentally on synthetic organic chemistry.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Anita MaGuire:
And we would be particularly actively involved in the whole area of asymmetric synthesis, where we look at methods for producing compounds, particularly pharmaceutical compounds. And then we have medicinal chemistry focus where we have targeted projects aimed at developing specific compounds with potential pharmaceutical application. So my research, which is funded by Science Foundation Ireland, would be particularly focused on development of novel antiviral compounds for HIV and Hepatitis treatment. So we span fundamental synthetic chemistry right through to medicinal chemistry and that activity is critical to our activity. Typically there will be about 17 to 20 PhD students working on various activities in those spaces. And I think it's absolutely essential, we have fundamental research in those areas to underpin the development of the pharmaceutical industry in the country.
Activities in assymetrical chemistry.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So when it comes to the asymmetrical chemistry or (indiscernable) chemistry sometimes people call that, what are you looking, are you trying to overcome some of the issues that are related to trying to produce sufficient quantities of that, or are you looking for cheaper ways in which you can produce these?
Anita MaGuire:
We are looking for both really. I suppose the fundamental focus would be to develop efficient methods, which allow you access to a wider range of compounds as possible in a (indiscernable) form and also many of the existing methods will produce one end and not the other, so we are particularly focused on developing methods which will produce either an (indiscernable) in a more efficient method.
Research and development collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland
Fintan Walton:
Right. So the other key thing here is, in Ireland,Ireland has got a very good strong reputation for having it's very strong presence in manufacturing in the pharmaceutical industry and clearly you know your departments can cover and support that. When it comes to the fundamental research, and so forth, it's going to be key that Ireland builds up that capability and you mentioned a little bit about the research and development collaborations that you have with the pharmaceutical industry. Could you tell us bit more about that and the types of companies you are working with?
Anita MaGuire:
The pharmaceutical industry here is at a very interesting time in its development. It's come from being a purely manufacturing focus to know developing activities in the R&D space.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Anita MaGuire:
So in fact the opportunities for interaction across the industrial academic interface are much more exciting now than they were 10-years ago. So we're working in an ongoing capacity with many of the companies such as Novartis, Eli Lilly, GSK, Pfizer in collaborations of projects which are of specific interest to the company, so you know they may be looking at a new method to develop a synthesis of a particular compound or overcoming a specific process issue. So we have a number of collaborative projects underway typically in my lab at any time and there might be three or four people working on these collaborative projects with companies. This is confidential work; we can't publish this work right.
Fintan Walton:
Okay.
Anita MaGuire:
We do it very much for a strategic reason in partnership with the industry, because we really want to see the pharmaceutical sector in Ireland become more active in the R&D space. So this is a (indiscernable) type research, it's absolutely essential that it's in parallel in my lab with the fundamental research. We couldn't drive and apply research programs without having the fundamental research activity. So there is continuity across all of those activities.
Ireland's formidable leadership in manufacturing.
Fintan Walton:
Right. I suppose here the other key thing here is recognizing that your departments are actually involved in drug discovery activities and you know that's really important for the future of the pharmaceutical industry up here in Ireland?
Anita MaGuire:
Yes absolutely Fintan Walton. I mean the day that the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland is undertaking fundamental drug discovery will be the day I think many of us will be very happy. That's the goal that we would like to see. The government has invested very heavily in developing the scientific infrastructure to enable the industry in Ireland to move in that direction; so that certainly is the goal.
Fintan Walton:
So one of the key things about Ireland and anybody visiting Ireland will recognize that the large development agencies, the IDA, plays in really important role in organizing the overall strategy. Now for somebody like yourself who is a Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry you think that your department, that the activities that you've had would have taken about, taken place if there wasn't an IDA or if there wasn't an overall arching strategy for developing the pharmaceutical industry here in Ireland?
Anita MaGuire:
No, I think the it's the completeness working of the various elements of the picture in Ireland works extremely well.
Fintan Walton:
Yes.
Anita MaGuire:
A small country, we all know one another people, people I meet over work at the industry academic interface, the IDA, Science Foundation Ireland, Pharma Chem Ireland which is the over arching body for the industry. We interact very effectively, and I think that the investment that has taken place in research in Ireland over the last eight-years is directly a result of what the IDA have done in trying to ensure that we have the infrastructure present in which the pharmaceutical industry can thrive. So we certainly wouldn't have had the opportunities we have to develop our research without the industry in Ireland.
Future of the Irish pharmaceutical industry in the next 4-5 years.
Fintan Walton:
And Anita MaGuire, looking into the future and looking at, and you are very close as you say, very close to the pharmaceutical industry, both the companies themselves but also what the government is doing itself, well -- how do you feel? What's your view of how the industry is going to develop over the next 5 to 10-years?
Anita MaGuire:
Well, what we've seen in recent years is a significant increase in activity in process development where the late stage development is done in the various sites in parallel with the manufacturing and this has a number of strategic advantages in terms of potential market to do the late stage process development on the same site of the manufacturing, the whole process of transfer moves through quite quickly. Now from the scientific perspective that's a very exciting, because the scientific requirements for process development are much more demanding than manufacturing type activity.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Anita MaGuire:
And this brought the Irish pharmaceutical sector up the value chain, so that they are more involved in the decision making process. We definitely see that process continuing over the next 5 to 10-years, most of the companies recognize this as an important strategy. The other two major changes which are happening is a rapid expansion of the biopharmaceutical sector which really has placed the third level sector under huge challenges to make sure we produce graduates who can work in both the biopharmaceutical and the pharmaceutical sector, and that has happened very rapidly and there is also a move into the formulation space where drug product is now being produced in Ireland. So the skill sets we will have to produce to facilitate those changes are really quite dramatically different from what we have produced in 10-years ago, when really we needed to produce chemists. We now need to produce formulation scientist, drug discovery scientist, people who understand the biopharmaceutical world, and what we are actually trying to do is make sure that the graduates can move between the pharmaceutical sector and the biopharmaceutical sector in a seamless way as their company develops. So we are trying to expose them to both sides and it's not trivial, but I think given the way the industry in Ireland is developing its absolutely essential that the 25-year old graduate with PhD's have that flexibility to move in the future.
Fintan Walton:
Professor Anita MaGuire, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Anita MaGuire:
Thank you.
Anita MaGuire
Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Anita MaGuire, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at University College Cork, is Director of the Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility at University College Cork, Supervisor of the Organic and Pharmaceutical Synthesis Research Team at UCC, consisting of 19 full-time researchers, and Head of the Department of Chemistry and a senior member of the new School of Pharmacy at UCC. Her research interests in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Chemistry include development of new synthetic methodology, asymmetric synthesis including biocatalysis, and the design and synthesis of bioactive compounds with pharmaceutical applications. She interacts extensively with the pharmaceutical industry both within Ireland and internationally. She is a currently a member of the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET), the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ASC), and the Royal Irish Academy Chemical and Physical Sciences Committee, and the Board of NIBRT. She undertook undergraduate and postgraduate studies at UCC (B.Sc. 1985, Ph.D. 1989) and then worked as a Postdoctoral Associate at the Facultes Universitaires, Namur, Belgium and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Exeter before returning to the Department of Chemistry in UCC in 1991. She was elected to the Governing Body of University College Cork in December 2003.
University College Cork
University College Cork was established in 1845 as one of three Queen's Colleges at Cork, Galway and Belfast. The site chosen for the college is particularly appropriate given its connection with the patron saint of Cork, St Finbarr. It is believed his monastery and school stood on the bank of the river Lee, which runs through the lower grounds of the university. The University's motto is ' Where Finbarr Taught, let Munster Learn.' On November 7th 1849, Queen's College Cork opened its doors to a privileged section of the youth of Munster (115 students in that first session, 1849-'50) after a glittering inaugural ceremony in the Aula Maxima which, the newspapers remarked, already looked mellow though just completed, and which is still the symbolic and ceremonial heart of the college. The limestone buildings of the Main Quadrangle were designed by the gifted architectural partnership of Thomas Deane and Benjamin Woodword. The style has been variously described as perpendicular Gothic, Tudor Gothic or Victorian Gothic. The north wing of the Main Quadrangle houses UCC's unique collection of Ogham Stones, thought to be burial stones or boundary markers. The inscriptions are the earliest written source of the Irish language and the oldest recordings or Irish personal names, dating back to the mid fifth and late seventh centuries. Sir Robert Kane, distinguished industrial scientist and first president of the college, passionately defended the 'mixed education' non-denominational principle against the charge of godlessness, emphasizing the built-in provisions for respecting religious beliefs and even for promoting religious practice. Courses were offered in the faculties of arts, (comprising literature and science), medicine, law and in the schools of engineering (civil and mechanical) and agriculture. Students paid college fees, but also class fees, directly to their professors and lecturers. Popular lecturers became wealthy men! For the first thirty years, men dominated college life. The first female students were admitted to Queen's College, Cork in the academic year 1885/'86. Until the early years of the 20th century all academic staff were male. However, by 1910, Cork was the first Irish college to appoint a female professor, Mary Ryan, Professor of Romance Languages. One of the University's most famous lecturers was Professor George Boole, (lecturer between 1849-1864) the great mathematician, who is best remembered for his development of Boolean algebra without which modern computer science would be impossible. University College Cork is now one of four constituent universities of the federal National University of Ireland. The Universities Act 1997, came into operation in June 1997 and provides for the transfer of powers and functions from the National University of Ireland to its constituent universities (eg staff appointments, programme approval and the conduct of examinations), for internal reorganization of universities (eg governing authorities) and for some changes in relationships between universities and the state (eg role of the Higher Education Authority). The University had been subject to other legislation over the years, The University Education (Ireland) Act, 1879, and the Irish Universities Act 1908 which affected the name of the university and the matriculation processes. UCC was chosen by The Sunday Times as the Irish University of the year for 2003, and again for 2005. This Award was given for a number of reasons- the University's position as the leading research institution in Ireland; its cosmopolitan character with an admirable student mix; the excellence of its teaching and academic standards; the flexibility of its degree programmes; its low drop-out rates; its high level of graduate employment; its links with business and industry and its successful Access and Bridging the Gap programmes. Further information on UCC's history is available in Professor John A Murphy's three books on the University: The College: A History of Queen's/ University College Cork, 1845-1995 ; Where Finbarr Taught: A concise History of Queen's/ University College Cork and University College Cork: A portrait in Words and Images. The books are available in UCC's Boole Library or in the Visitors' Centre visitorscentre@ucc.ie. The University's Office of Media and Communications has produced a compact Guide to University College Cork for the general public and A Schools' Guide to UCC, both available from the Visitors' Centre.