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Irish firm wins award for solution that kills superbugs

Irish firm wins award for solution that kills superbugs

Fatal superbugs that have contributed to the deaths of patients and to outbreaks in Irish hospitals face a new enemy in the form of an award-winning antimicrobial solution.

DIT Grangegorman start-up company Kastus has won a Knowledge Transfer Ireland award, which recognises the achievements of higher-education institutes and publicly funded research organisations in Ireland. The company won the award for its solution, which chief executive John Browne says will kill MRSA, Ecoli, fungus associated with athlete’s foot, and CRE (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae).

According to Browne, it will kill the “dirty dozen” superbugs listed last month by the World Health Organisation (WHO) including three families of bacteria the WHO describes as of critical importance: acinetobacter, pseudomonas and various enterobacteriaceae, which includes CRE. These can cause bloodstream infections and pneumonia and pose a major risk in hospitals and nursing homes. The WHO list also includes high- and medium-priority drug-resistant bacteria that cause diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

The solution can be used to protect surfaces like smartphones, door handles, toilets, sinks, ceramic floor and wall tiles, glass, metals, ATMs, TVs, handrails, lifts, fridges, microwaves, as well as plastics and paint. The company is currently in negotiations with ceramics companies manufacturing sanitary ceramics.

“Our technology is factory applied,” said Mr Browne. The coating is sprayed into the product and then baked into it in the manufacturing process, forming a super hard surface which is permanent and transparent. The product – sink, urinal, ATM – is then permanently free from superbugs, he said.

In December last year, Kastus received a €1.5 million investment from the Atlantic Bridge University Fund. The company is also supported by Singapore-based investor syndicate Carragh Holdings and by Enterprise Ireland. The firm was involved in a recent Enterprise Ireland trade trip to the Middle East. Kastus is currently taking on more staff.

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Amryt to begin Phase 3 trial of drug to treat rare disorder

Amryt to begin Phase 3 trial of drug to treat rare disorder

Amryt Pharma has announced the commencement of “EASE”, the Phase 3 clinical trial of AP101 which offers a potential treatment for Epidermolysis Bullosa (“EB”). Currently there is no known cure for EB, a rare genetic skin disorder which causes the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch. There are approximately 500,000 people living with EB worldwide and the global market for a treatment in EB is estimated to be in excess of €1.3 billion.

Amryt expects to conduct EASE in approximately 15 countries at over 30 sites and to enrol a total of 164 evaluable patients. Patients will be randomised in a double-blind fashion to AP101 or placebo, and the proportion of patients with completely healed target wounds within 45 days will be evaluated as the primary efficacy endpoint.

Mark Sumeray, Chief Medical Officer of Amryt, said: “We are delighted to have initiated the first site participating in our Phase 3 clinical for AP101, which offers a potential treatment for the rare, genetic skin condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa or EB.”

He added that the study is of “substantial size for such a rare disease and offers the opportunity to evaluate a new topical treatment with the potential to accelerate wound healing in this devastating disorder.”

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TILDA awarded €10 million for ageing research

TILDA awarded €10 million for ageing research

The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), will get a  €10 million  cash injection over the next 5 years from the Health Research Board (HRB) to fund its research on ageing.  By 2021, about one in seven in the Irish population will be aged 65+ and by 2031 this age will have grown to one in ever five Irish citizens. The ongoing research will provide a critical source of evidence to help practitioners, policy makers and planners understand the changing and growing needs of this population into the future.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, said the findings of Wave 3 show that we have a way to go in optimising the health and wellbeing of older people. “My Department and the HSE will examine these findings with a view to identifying the responses we need to ensure the best outcomes for older people.  I am happy that the Department of Health has been able to provide €10 million to support the continuation of TILDA.  I look forward to working with TILDA to ensure that policy-making is more and more based on good research and hard evidence”.

Dr Mairead O’Driscoll, Interim Chief Executive at the Health Research Board said the Health Research Board would actively work with TILDA and the Department of Health to set up a dedicated Knowledge Translation Group. “The aim will be to make sure that we ask the right questions to inform future health needs and that the data gathered reaches the right people to underpin changes in policy and practice,” she added. The recent WAVE 3 Research Findings undertaken by TILDA confirms that older people make an enormous contribution to our society. The results show that half of older adults provide regular childcare to their grandchildren, half engage in volunteering to varying degrees, and the vast majority of financial transfers are from older adults to their children rather than vice versa. So far from later years being a time characterised by decline and increased dependency, older adults continue to make valuable contributions to society.

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GMI Launch Genomic Research on Rare Disorders

GMI Launch Genomic Research on Rare Disorders

Irish life-sciences company, Genomics Medicine Ireland Ltd. (GMI) announced on Tuesday that it has partnered with Temple Street Children’s University Hospital and the UCD Academic Centre on Rare Diseases (ACoRD) to launch a groundbreaking research study which will examine children with rare undiagnosed genetic disorders attending Temple Street, and their parents in order to identify the key genetic components of rare disorders. The study will combine advanced scientific technology in genomics, the study of all of a person’s genes, together with detailed clinical information to identify the genetic cause of rare disorders affecting/amongst families in Ireland.

Director of UCD ACoRD Sean Ennis said: “This study will give us a greater understanding of the role of genetics in rare disorders for faster and more accurate diagnoses for patients and to help in the development of more targeted therapies for treating these conditions. Ultimately, in the longer term, we are looking to gain insights that will lead to the prevention of these conditions.”

Rare Disorders affect an estimated 300,000 people in Ireland meaning one person in 12 may have a rare disease at some stage in their lifetime.

Temple Street Children’s University Hospital Research Manager Tara Raftertry said “Genome studies hold significant potential to deliver improvements in the quality of life for future generations of children with rare conditions. The route to diagnosing these disorders often involves multiple tests, some of which can be invasive. We can render these kind of tests unnecessary if we can get better insight to the cause of the rare disorder from the outset.”

Genomics Medicine Ireland hopes to quickly expand the research activity in Rare Disorders beyond the charter study at Temple Street to other research centres in Ireland. It will also be launching additional studies in a number of major chronic and incurable conditions where there is a need to better understand the role genetics and lifestyle play in disease and disease progression.

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CÚRAM Awarded €150,000 to Tackle Major Global Health Problems

CÚRAM Awarded €150,000 to Tackle Major Global Health Problems

CÚRAM Investigator Dr. Martin O’Halloran has been awarded a second European Research Council (ERC) grant of €150,000 to support the development of a new medical device for the treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure) that can lead to heart disease and stroke, NUI Galway announced on Tuesday.

The project is a collaboration between Investigators Dr Martin O’Halloran and Dr Conall Dennedy at CÚRAM, the Centre for Research in Medical Devices based at NUI Galway. The Investigators aim to bring the novel medical device towards first-in-man trials within the lifetime of the project.

The widespread presence of hypertension in European countries is currently 28-44%. This amounts to between 200 and 327 million Europeans. Excess production of the hormone aldosterone by the adrenal glands (primary aldosteronism) is the most common endocrine cause and accounts for 8-20% of all hypertension. Current treatment regimens are dissatisfactory and costly, involving either surgery or lifelong drug therapy. Therefore, a cost-effective, minimally invasive and definitive management approach for this underlying cause would present a potential cure for an often undiagnosed and unmanaged disease. This is what is being proposed with the new ERC ‘REALTA’ project.

“The REALTA project plan is very similar to that of a start-up medtech company, where as well as technology development, the team will also examine the competitive landscape, the clinical and regulatory pathway, and reimbursement opportunities”, O’Halloran said. “The overarching goal is to gather sufficient technical, clinical, regulatory and commercial evidence over the course of the next 18 months to be able to spin-out a company that is attractive to external investors. Such investment will be required to take the technology through to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and clinical trials.”

Dr O’Halloran secured his first ERC Starting Grant in 2015 to examine the electrical properties of human tissue, as a platform for novel medical device development in Europe. Supported by a Science Foundation Ireland ERC Support Grant, he established the Translational Medical Device Lab in Galway, the first medical device lab in Ireland to be embedded in a regional hospital, University Hospital Galway, and co-located within the Health Research Board’s Clinical Research Facility. Working closely with Dr Conall Dennedy, Consultant Endocrinologist at NUI Galway, he began to examine the potential of new technologies to treat primary aldosteronism, the most common endocrine cause of hypertension.

Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM said: “The objectives of CÚRAM are to carry out research on the development of innovative ‘smart’ implantable medical devices, which will benefit patients with chronic ailments such as cardiovascular diseases. I would like to congratulate Dr O’Halloran and Dr Dennedy on their continued research success, which is supported by the excellent multidisciplinary team of clinicians, translational scientists and engineers here at CÚRAM and NUI Galway, which reflects the interests and expertise of investigators in CÚRAM.”

Read the NUI Galway announcement here.

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ARCH Launches Remote Clinical Trials Study for Care Home Patients

ARCH Launches Remote Clinical Trials Study for Care Home Patients

ARCH, the Centre for Applied Research for Connected Health, announced on Wednesday the launch of a collaborative study to assess the feasibility of collecting clinical trial data remotely within a care home environment.

The findings from this connected health study could enhance the design of future clinical trials to make them more patient-centric, more engaging and more convenient for those who participate in them. Researchers will also assess if the remote trial places additional burden on care home staff and patients.

ARCH is undertaking this research study, called REACHES (REmote Assessment of older people in a Care HomE Setting), in collaboration with industry partners; ICON Clinical Research, Kinesis Health Technologies, a University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out company, and Big Cloud Analytics and supported by Dublin-based Physiotherapy Clinic, Fit for Life.

Clinical trials traditionally take place in a hospital setting, which often restricts participation from patients with limited mobility and independence due to problematic logistics and limited travel ability.

An alternative approach is to move the clinical trial beyond the confines of the hospital. Enabling this ‘place-shifting’ may result in wider participation and engagement in clinical trials.

Led by a team of ARCH researchers, this study will assess the feasibility of collecting clinical trial data remotely in a care home, Mount Hybla Private, in Castleknock, Dublin, using a selection of mobile and wearable solutions provided by the collaborating companies.

The QTUG device provided by Kinesis Health Technologies, will assess aspects of mobility, balance and fall risk of participants. The Aging Research App developed by ICON with mProve Health using Apple Research Kit, will be used to deliver an electronic version of the Age-Related Muscle Loss Questionnaire. The Covalence analytics platform from Big Cloud Analytics will allow visualisation and engagement messaging for trial participants and clinicians for overall health and wellness monitoring and improvement.

 

“I’m delighted to see this academic-industry-clinical multi-disciplinary collaboration taking place.,” ARCH Centre Director Michael O’Shea said. “Traditional clinical trial research is becoming financially unfeasible. Sponsors and clinical research organisations (CROs) are looking to decrease costs and improve efficiency. An important strategy is the use of technology in the design and execution of clinical trials. The promise and potential benefits of the ‘Patient Centric’ clinical trial design needs to be traded off against what is referred to as the ‘Patient Burden’.

“The importance of understanding the optimal level of interaction with technology and devices for patients is key to successful trial design and execution and projects like this are a fundamental step in answering this question.”

ARCH, the Irish national centre for applied connected health research, is headquartered at NexusUCD, the Industry Partnership Centre at UCD. As an industry-led technology centre, funded by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, ARCH provides access to world-class healthcare professionals, academics, patient cohorts and industry networks to explore and evaluate connected health solutions for the global market.

ARCH focuses on the adoption, deployment and sustainability of connected health solutions which will benefit the Irish and international economy and society.

Over 30 industry partners, from start-ups to multinationals, are currently steering ARCH’s research programme.

These industry partners; S3 Group, Vu2Vu, Hermitage Medical Clinic, Novartis, ADA Security Systems, Relate Care, Two Ten Health, Philips Healthcare, ResMed, ICON, SwiftQueue, HealthBridge Technology, Dolmen, PatientMpower, Nurse Buddy, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Salaso Healthcare, McGreal Group, Caragon, Evolve Technologies, nSilico Lifescience, Neuromod Devices, Odyssey Validation Consultants, Kinesis Health Technologies, Medaval, Insulcheck, Foundry Innovation & Research 1 (FIRE 1), 3rd Pillar Clinical, Big Cloud Analytics and IBM; are all actively involved in the connected health sector.

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Heart Pumping Robotic Sleeve Developed by Galway Researcher

Heart Pumping Robotic Sleeve Developed by Galway Researcher

An innovative soft robotic sleeve that helps hearts to beat has been developed by researchers including Dr. Ellen Roche of National University of Ireland Galway, according to research published on Thursday. The soft robotic sleeve wraps around the organ, twisting and compressing in sync with the beating heart, potentially opening new treatment options for people suffering from heart failure.

Roche is the paper’s first author and former PhD student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and The Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. The research took place at Harvard and at Boston Children’s Hospital.

While other therapeutic systems known as ventricular assist devices (VADs) are already used to sustain end-stage heart failure patients awaiting transplant, they extend lives albeit at a high risk due to the number of complications that can occur resulting from their design. Complications include the risk of clotting requiring patients to take potentially dangerous blood thinner medications. Unlike VADs, the soft robotic sleeve does not directly contact blood, avoiding that risk.

With heart failure affecting 41 million people worldwide, the hope is the device may one day be able to bridge a patient to transplant or to aid in cardiac rehabilitation and recovery. “This research demonstrates that the growing field of soft robotics can be applied to clinical needs and potentially reduce the burden of heart disease and improve the quality of life for patients,” explained Roche, now a postdoctoral researcher with Professor Peter McHugh in biomedical engineering at National University of Ireland Galway, where she also previously studied for her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering.

To create an entirely new device that does not come into contact with blood, the researchers took inspiration from the heart itself. The thin silicone sleeve uses soft pneumatic actuators placed around the heart to mimic the outer muscle layers of the mammalian heart. The actuators twist and compress the sleeve in a similar motion to the beating heart. The device is tethered to an external pump, which uses air to power the soft actuators.

“The sleeve can be customized for each patient”, said Roche. If a patient has more weakness on the left side of the heart, for example, the actuators can be tuned to give more assistance on that side. The pressure of the actuators can also increase or decrease over time, as the patient’s condition evolves.

More research needs to be done before the sleeve can be implanted in humans but the work is an important first step towards an implantable soft robot that can augment organ function.

“This research is really significant at the moment because more and more people are ending up with heart failure,” said Roche. “Soft robotic devices are ideally suited to interact with soft tissue and give assistance that can help with augmentation of function, and potentially even healing and recovery.”

Senior authors on the study are Professor Conor Walsh, director of the Harvard Biodesign Lab, and Dr. Frank Pigula, who was at Boston Childrens Hospital when the research was conducted. The study was co-authored by Markus A. Horvath, Isaac Wamala, Ali Alazmani, Sang-Eun Song, William Whyte, Zurab Machaidze, Christopher J. Payne, James Weaver, Gregory Fishbein, Joseph Kuebler, Nikolay V.Vasilyev and David J. Mooney.

It was supported by the Translational Research Program grant from Boston Children’s Hospital, a Director’s Challenge Cross-Platform grant from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Science Foundation Ireland.

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AbbVie and GMI Announce Landmark Population Genomics Alliance

AbbVie and GMI Announce Landmark Population Genomics Alliance

Biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, life-sciences startup Genomics Medicine Ireland Limited (GMI), and WuXi NextCODE, the global contract genomics organisation, launched a long-term strategic alliance on Monday to conduct population genomics research in Ireland aimed at advancing the discovery and development of novel therapeutic approaches to a range of serious diseases. The 15-year collaboration will focus on major chronic diseases within oncology, neuroscience and immunology that affect hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and hundreds of millions worldwide.

The alliance will result in the sequencing of 45,000 genomes from volunteer participants across Ireland to seek novel insights into the biological processes that underlie complex disease. AbbVie will use the research database developed by GMI to identify new molecular approaches for therapeutic drug discovery and development as well as to develop companion diagnostics. The alliance builds on AbbVie’s substantial existing presence in Ireland, which includes more than 600 employees and investments of more than $130 million since 2013.

“Genomics is transforming the way we understand some of the world’s most devastating diseases and enabling the discovery of new approaches that have the potential to deliver much greater benefit to patients,” said AbbVie Vice President of Pharmaceutical Discovery, Jim Sullivan. “This alliance is an important part of our research strategy and complements our significant footprint here in Ireland.”

AbbVie is a global, research-based biopharmaceutical company formed in 2013 following separation from Abbott Laboratories. The company’s mission is to develop and market advanced therapies that address some of the world’s most complex and serious diseases. AbbVie employs more than 28,000 people worldwide, almost 600 of which are employed across five sites in Ireland. The company has two manufacturing plants in Sligo and a third in Cork, each of which is uniquely focused on supporting portions of AbbVie’s top 20 products. The company has invested steadily in Ireland since its launch in 2013 announcing capital investments of more than €130m at its three manufacturing centers over the past three years. In late 2015, AbbVie also launched two new therapeutic research collaborations valued at €10 million with academic institutions in Cork and Dublin in partnership with the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Daniel Crowley, acting CEO of GMI, commented: “This partnership validates the vision that created Genomics Medicine Ireland. With AbbVie and WuXi NextCODE we will leverage our deep expertise in life sciences and the unique characteristics of the Irish population to discover critical insights into disease, disease progression, and therapeutic response. The resulting therapies to cure and prevent these diseases will benefit patients both here in Ireland and around the world.”

Founded in 2015, GMI is an Irish life-sciences company leading large-scale, population-based genome research studies on the island of Ireland examining the relationship between genetics, health and disease. It is building a preeminent disease-specific database of population genomics.

“GMI’s alliance with AbbVie demonstrates the potential of GMI to drive world-class innovation in healthcare and provides the opportunity for Irish clinicians and researchers to advance genetic discovery and for patients to benefit from the prospective development of new therapeutics,” said Paul Saunders, Head of Innovation with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

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UCC Awarded Gold Medal for Potential Tropical Disease Vaccine

UCC’s Limited Lactis team was awarded a gold medal recently at the iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) competition in Boston.

More than 600 teams from top universities across the globe, including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford took part in the competition, which is held up as the gold standard for “research-led education”.

The only Irish entrants in the competition, Limited Lactis used the bacterium Lactococcus lactis, a generally recognised as safe bacterium, commonly used in food production, to develop a potential new vaccine against Leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease that is increasing in geographical distribution.

Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning approach to designing and making novel products from biology, which is revolutionising what is possible in tackling world needs in health, energy, food and beyond.

Leishmaniasis affects some of the world’s poorest people and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of financial resources. An estimated 900,000–1,300,000 new cases and 20,000-30,000 deaths occur annually. Leishmaniasis is linked to environmental changes such as deforestation, building of dams, irrigation schemes, and urbanisation.

The UCC team worked voluntarily, engaging with people in disease-affected regions such as Honduras, where diseases like Leishmaniasis is a serious problem. Team instructor, Yensi Flores, a PhD candidate at the Cork Cancer Research Centre and APC Microbiome Institute, travelled to Honduras to gain an insight into the realities of developing a suitable treatment for Leishmaniasis. She connected the team with various stakeholders on the ground. The team also engaged in significant outreach work, teaching Cork school pupils about synthetic biology and conducting charity fundraising activities.

The team, which was comprised of students from UCC Pharmacy, Medicine, Genetics, and BioMedical Science andhosted by the APC Microbiome Institute, Cork Cancer Research Centre and the School of Biochemistry, received financial support from the APC Microbiome Institute, Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCC College of Medicine & Health, Fyffes, the EU, Janssen and Eli Lilly.

Mark Tangney of Cork Cancer Research Centre & APC Microbiome Institute, sadi: “I was blown away with how much was achieved in such a short time by undergraduate students, and how sophisticated the resulting technology is, all due to the enthusiasm of the students and the power of Synthetic Biology.”

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BD to Build R&D Centre in Limerick

BD to Build R&D Centre in Limerick

Medical Technology company Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) announced on Friday that it plans to open a research and development centre in Limerick, creating about 100 jobs.

The €21 million investment in the centre includes an extensive renovation of the former UniGolf facility in the National Technology Park. Once completed, it is planned to house more than 200 high-tech positions, including the more than 100 BD jobs that are already in Limerick and 100 new positions.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who attended the announcement, said: “Today’s announcement by BD of 100 jobs makes me very proud of Limerick. The company will now begin the process of giving 100 highly skilled workers the opportunity to improve their own lives through employment and also contribute in a meaningful way to the growth of this world class company. This is the latest in a series of quality jobs announcements in Limerick and is a further endorsement of the people of Limerick, the city itself and the top class educational institutions.”

BD has invested significantly in Ireland since 1964 with two sites in Drogheda and Dun Laoghaire, employing more than 500 people in high-skill positions. With the acquisition of GenCell Biosystems Limited in Limerick, the number of BD employees in Ireland has risen to nearly 600.

The BD Limerick R&D Centre will initially focus on product and software development, clinical research instrumentation and prototype development, primarily for the company’s Life Sciences businesses.

Ellen Strahlman, Executive Vice President R&D and Chief Medical Officer for BD said: “Areas served by activities and products arising from our new R&D Centre of Excellence will include the fields of microbiology and molecular biology, clinical and cellular research analysis, and industrial microbiology. Customers will include hospitals, laboratories and clinics, reference laboratories, industrial laboratories, physicians’ office practices, alternate site health care, academic and government institutions, and research facilities. Limerick will be very important for our strategic growth.”

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