Amgen’s Adrian Bennis: Ireland at the cutting edge of fighting cancer

6 Dec 2016

Adrian Bennis, principal engineer drug product technology, Amgen, Amgen. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Amgen’s Adrian Bennis spoke at Inspirefest 2016 about how the Irish-based company is developing new weapons in the war against cancer.

As breakthroughs in medical care advance our average age decade by decade, there has been an increase in the number of cases with particular types of cancer.

This has resulted in pharmaceutical and biotech companies racing to find solutions to a present – and future – where nearly one in three people are being diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lives.

One such company is Amgen, an international biotech giant that opened a new $300m facility in Dún Laoghaire last year, in what was once Pfizer’s Dublin building.

Amgen went on to be named Biopharma and Overall Pharma Industry Company of the Year at the Pharma Industry Awards last October. Back in July, the company’s principal engineer of drug product technology, Adrian Bennis, was heralding some of its recent breakthroughs.

In particular, Bennis said on the Inspirefest 2016 stage that immunotherapy – which uses our own immune systems to target cancerous cells – is seeing a significant surge in research.

In the past, and even now, typical cancer drugs have proven challenging – while they are used to target cancerous cells, they can also cause collateral damage to health cells also.

Ireland in a unique position

However, by developing immunotherapy treatment methods that can determine the minute difference between cancer and healthy cells, much more effective treatments can be created.

At Amgen, one such immunotherapy method is known as the Bispecific T cell Engager – or BiTE for short – that boosts the ability of the body’s T cells to fight off not only infections, but also cancer.

With the addition of specially harnessed BiTE antibodies, T cells have a valuable aid in helping to identify the evasive cancer cells that a regular T cell would be unable to distinguish from a health cell.

This potentially game-changing technology is now to be developed at Amgen’s base in Dún Laoghaire, thanks to the facility being capable of lyophilisation, which enables it to freeze-dry pharmaceutical products.

“That puts Ireland and our industry right at the cutting edge of bringing the next generation of medicines to fight cancer,” Bennis said.

“I believe that in the next short while, we’re going to have the same successes in fighting cancer as we had with fighting pathogens and viruses that invade our body.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get half-price Super Early Bird tickets before prices go up on 15 December.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic