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Scotland to be UK leader in anti-cancer drugs

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 April 2003

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Scotland will become the UK centre for the manufacture of the latest anti-cancer drugs, with the opening of Cancer Research UK’s new Formulation Unit at the University of Strathclyde.

The £2 million centre – the largest academic facility of its type in Britain – will herald a new era of high-speed research that will bring Scottish-made medicines to more cancer patients than ever before.

Sir David Steel, Presiding Officer for the Scottish Parliament and himself recovering from prostate cancer, will open the Unit in a midday ceremony.

Scientists in the Cancer Research UK Formulation Unit will take promising new drug discoveries and turn them into a form that can be tested in patients; for instance a tablet, capsule or injectable solution. The Unit will be a vital bridge between the bench and the bedside, helping to ensure that new cancer treatments reach patients as quickly as possible.

The original unit, founded in 1983, has handled around 100 different compounds and manufactured over a million units of medicine, used to treat 10,000 people with cancer in Britain and across the world. But the equipment is ageing and the facilities cramped, sparking the charity’s decision to build a brand new, state-of-the-art facility.

Housed within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Strathclyde, the new facility will have superb premises for sterile drug production and quality control testing, allowing it to produce up to five times as many drugs in a year as its predecessor.

It will be the biggest manufacturing facility for new anti-cancer drugs anywhere in the UK outside the major pharmaceutical companies. And unlike these, the purpose of Cancer Research UK’s facility is not to make money, but to get new treatments to people with cancer as quickly as possible.

Sir David Steel says: “It’s an honour to declare this spectacular new facility open. It will confirm Scotland’s position at the hub of British cancer research and help to get new drugs to cancer patients much more quickly. By speeding the progress of new drugs into clinical trials, there’s a real prospect that this unit will save lives.”

At the opening will be a number of the key figures who were responsible for developing the unit and will now be aiming to take it forward.

Dr Gavin Halbert, Director of the Cancer Research UK Formulation Unit, says: “I can’t wait for us to start using these new facilities, which will allow us to accelerate the process of drug discovery and development. Lots more anti-cancer drugs will reach patients as a result of this unit.”

Professor Andrew Hamnett, Principal of the University of Strathclyde, says: “The Formulation Unit is a unique academic facility that has helped to cement the international reputation of the University of Strathclyde in the area of anti-cancer drugs. We look forward to continuing our immensely productive work with Cancer Research UK.”

Dr Sally Burtles, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Drug Development, says: “This is a fantastic development for the charity which will help us fulfil our commitment to deliver better treatments to cancer patients.

“It will also allow us to maximise the chances of success by exploring a wide-range of new anti-cancer medicines, including products taken from natural sources.”


Note to Editors:

Figures show that in 1999 nearly 25,000 cases of cancer were diagnosed in Scotland and in 2001 over 15,000 people died from the various forms of the disease.

One of the facility’s aims will be to turn natural products with anti-cancer activity into usable medicines, something at which the staff at the Unit excel. They have worked out ways of giving patients a number of such medicines, including Combretastatin – a drug that attacks a tumour’s blood supply – which is derived from the African bushwillow.