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Posted 20 July 2009

Minister announces €5.6million funding for cancer research

3 UCD Conway fellows among cluster for cancer-focused strategic research

The Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation, Mr Conor Lenihan TD recently announced €5.6 million funding from Government, through Science Foundation Ireland, for the establishment of a new Cancer-Focused Strategic Research Cluster (SRC). The SRC in Molecular Therapeutics for Cancer will assemble and build a fully-integrated national translational cancer drug discovery and development programme that will significantly benefit cancer patients in Ireland.

Three of the four co-principal investigators in the new SRC, which is under the leadership of Consultant Medical Oncologist, Professor John Crown, with Dublin City University as lead academic institution, are UCD Conway Institute Fellows: Professor Joe Duffy, Professor William Gallagher, and Professor William Watson. The fourth co-principal investigator in the SRC is Dr Judith Harmey, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Partners in the new SRC include: Trinity College Dublin / St. James’s Hospital and Irish Cooperative Oncology Research Group. Industry Partners include: GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck Sharpe & Dohme, Novartis, Roche, Amgen, Erigal, Caliper Life Science, AntiCancer Inc.

“This SRC has genuine potential to make Ireland a leading centre for cancer drug discovery and development,” said Minister Lenihan. “Today marks the latest declaration from Government that it believes in science, and greatly values the top class collaborative research being conducted in this country”


Professor Joe Duffy
St Vincent’s University Hospital and UCD Conway Institute

The aim of UCD Professor Joe Duffy’s research in this SRC is to develop new treatments to prevent the spread or metastasis of breast cancer. The formation of metastasis is the main cause of death in patients with breast cancer as in other cancers. If metastasis could be prevented, death rates from cancer would be dramatically reduced. Professor Duffy has previously been involved in research into biomarkers for predicting the formation of metastasis and is a world leader in this area of research. Several years ago, he showed that high levels of an enzyme involved in metastasis, known as UPA, predicted the early formation of cancer dissemination in women with breast malignancy. Measurement of this marker is now recommended by several expert groups in Europe and the US for identifying women with newly diagnosed breast cancer that are at high risk of developing metastasis.


Professor William Gallagher
UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and UCD Conway Institute

Professor Gallagher’s participation in the SRC is at multiple levels, with particular contribution of specialist expertise in the use of in-depth functional interrogation approaches at both in vitro and in vivo levels. As a result of previous SFI Equipment Grants (totalling approx €2 million) in 2006 and 2007, Professor Gallagher’s team has developed a comprehensive facility for non-invasive imaging of preclinical models. Such molecular imaging approaches (bioluminescent imaging, microPET etc.) are revolutionising the study of cancer, allowing both a sophisticated whole-organism view of tumour development and dissemination, as well as detailed analysis of the effects of new therapeutic entities. A key focus of Professor Gallagher in this SRC will be examination of the molecular basis of resistance to the commonly used hormone therapy, Tamoxifen, as well as to the leading antibody-based therapeutic, Herceptin. Finally, strong interaction with several leading pharma, two advanced imaging companies, as well as a major producer of radiopharmaceuticals is a central component of this work.


Professor William Watson
UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science and UCD Conway Institute

Professor William Watson’s focus in the research cluster is around the development of androgen independent prostate cancer and advanced disease. Working with the researchers in the cluster who have a focus on breast cancer, he will apply an understanding of the development of hormone independent breast cancer to the development of hormone independent prostate cancer. This project will use novel bioinformatics analysis of gene expression data generated as part of the work of the Prostate Cancer Research Consortium, a Molecular Medicine Ireland flagship programme which has built a shared prostate cancer bio-resource, a powerful tool for facilitating multidisciplinary trans-institutional research to identify markers of prostate cancer and targets for therapeutic manipulation. This will identify novel targets for therapeutic manipulation and in collaboration with the pharma companies of the cluster will undertake to drug these in order to prevent and reverse the development of hormone independence and advanced prostate cancer.


“This SRC is a deliberate step to bring together the clinical and pharmaceutical worlds through the definition of research that is mutually important,” said Professor Frank Gannon, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland.

“The Irish Government, through the Health Research Board, as well as SFI, is reinforcing efforts in this area of translational research. In a research context, the exchange and sharing of knowledge in a cluster format provides the best possible chances of success. Collaborative activity remains a key priority of SFI’s overall strategy as it expands its research programmes, while maintaining an acute awareness of enterprise needs and commercial potential.”

SFI’s SRC programme aims to link scientists and engineers in partnerships across academia and industry to address crucial research questions, foster the development of new and existing Irish-based technology companies, and to grow partnerships with industry that will enhance the competitiveness of Ireland’s economy.


The UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research is a multidisciplinary centre for research funded by an initiative of the Irish Higher Education Authority; the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI). UCD Conway Institute brings together over 550 research staff from across the University and its associated teaching hospitals.

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