SBI Welcomes Bio-Innovators to Dublin to Launch New Facilities

Written by: Philip Smyth
Written on: Thursday, 05 December, 2013

Today, Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock TD together with  two leading innovators in health research were in Dublin to help launch a new state of the art research facility for Systems Biology Ireland and highlight the possible upcoming breakthroughs in personalised medicine. Systems Biology Ireland, supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland, combines the power of computers and modern biology to understand diseases such as cancer and develops diagnostics and therapies that are tailored to the individual patient. Finding the right drug for the right patient is a major problem, especially in cancer therapy where often only one third of patients respond to treatment. The goal of Systems Biology Ireland’s research is to double the number of patients that cancer drugs work for by 2020. 

Speaking at the launch of the new building Minister Sherlock, said: “This magnificent new facility is a major step that will enable Systems Biology Ireland to lead in the advancement of personalised medicine on a global scale, and in a key area prioritised for investment under Horizon 2020. Establishment of a purpose-built, world class facility of this calibre,  supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland and the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions, is a notable achievement for Ireland.” 

“To really take advantage of the new drugs becoming available for targeted therapies, we urgently need the telescopic sights that will allow us to take each patient’s cancer into the crosshairs individually. Systems Biology Ireland is developing these sights” says Walter Kolch, Director of Systems Biology Ireland. 

Áine Lawlor of RTE chaired the discussion between the leading academic researcher and commercial entrepreneur in this exciting new sector. Denis Noble, Emeritus professor of physiology at Oxford and the first researcher to map and build a virtual human heart joined Linda Avey, who as the founder of both Curious Labs inc and 23andMe is a leader in commercially led research.


Denis Noble
CBE FRS FMedSci Emeritus Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology, University of Oxford

Denis Noble is a British biologist who was the first to model cardiac cells in two papers in Nature in 1960. He was educated at University College London and moved to Oxford in 1963 as Fellow and Tutor in Physiology at Balliol College. From 1984 to 2004, he held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at Oxford University. He is now Professor Emeritus and co-Director of Computational Physiology. His research focuses on using computer models of biological organs and organ systems to interpret function from the molecular level to the whole organism.

His team, together with international collaborators, has used supercomputers to create the first virtual organ, the virtual heart. This work has spawned a new era in physiology. As Secretary-General of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS), he played a major role in launching the Physiome Project, an international project to use computer simulations to create the quantitative physiological models necessary to interpret the genome. He is now President of the IUPS. He is one of the pioneers of Systems Biology and has written a popular book on Systems Biology, The Music of Life.

Linda Avey
Curious Labs and 23andMe

Linda has over 20 years of sales and business development experience in the biopharmaceutical industry in San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. Prior to starting 23andMe, she developed translational research collaborations with academic and pharmaceutical partners for Affymetrix and Perlegen Sciences.

Linda also spent time at Spotfire helping scientists understand the power of data visualization and at Applied Biosystems during the early days of the human genome project. The advent of high density genome-wide scanning technologies brought huge potential for significant discoveries. However, the lack of sufficient funding to enable adequate studies prompted Linda to think of a new research model. These ideas led to the formation of 23andMe. Her primary interest is the acceleration of personalised medicine, using genetic profiles to target the right drug to the right person at the correct dose. Linda graduated from Augustana College with a B.A. in biology.

About Systems Biology Ireland

Systems Biology Ireland at UCD is the leading research and innovation facility in Europe utilizing systems approaches to develop diagnostics and therapeutics for human cancers including childhood cancers, as well as colorectal and breast cancer. Recognized leaders within the systems biology field are driving a team of some 80 researchers drawn from over 20 countries towards achieving the 2020 goal to make medicine truly personalised to the needs of each individual cancer patient. Towards this goal Systems Biology Ireland works in co-operation with industry and clinicians both on a national and European level, leading to better diagnostics and more targeted small runs of individualized drug treatment for cancer patients. Funded translational programmes engaging clinicians ensure that these developments will be quickly fed through into the patient care system in Ireland and Europe.