UL’s Dr Denise Croker on the biggest challenge in biopharma research

26 Sep 2017

Dr Denise Croker, principal researcher, Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, UL. Image: Connor McKenna

What is the biggest challenge facing biopharma researchers in Ireland today? Dr Denise Croker from UL has a few ideas.

From an industrial chemist to a chemical engineer, Dr Denise Croker’s career to date has been spread across both industry and academia.

Now based at University of Limerick (UL) as a researcher, and a principal researcher at the Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre (SSPC), she faces the challenge of narrowing the wide gap that currently exists between industry practice and research.

The issue, she said in conversation with Siliconrepublic.com, is that by its nature, the pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated. This is for good reason, given that it is to be tested on human patients.

So, while significant progress might be made on the research side, the actual practice of putting it into market might take a lot longer to prove viable.

“That means it’s harder for the industry to change some of the technology or practices that they have,” Croker said.

One of Croker’s main research focuses is vital to the success of Ireland’s stature within the pharmaceutical industry: crystallisation.

This is the process of isolating a solid from a solution – in the industry, this means isolating the active ingredient in a potential drug.

“It’s really important because it dictates the properties of the drug, so it dictates how it goes into the person and the patient, and how it will handle in the rest of the manufacturing process,” Croker explained.

Looking specifically at Ireland, she added, a lot of final-stage manufacturing of drugs using crystallisation is undertaken by the largest pharma companies on the island, making it crucial for the world’s most popular drugs.

Croker believes the facilities in the Bernal Institute at UL give her exactly what she needs from a research perspective, particularly at the SSPC. Thanks to funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the centre has been able to expand.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic