Enterprise Ireland awards €1.3m to TCD and RCSI research projects

10 Aug 2020637 Views

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Through its commercialisation fund, Enterprise Ireland is investing in three research projects from Trinity College Dublin and RSCI.

Enterprise Ireland has awarded €1.3m to three third-level research projects through its commercialisation fund. Each of the projects will receive more than €400,000 in investment so researchers can transform their ideas into commercially viable and relevant businesses.

Enterprise Ireland has been working with third-level researchers for a decade through this initiative, with the aim of bringing commercially relevant technology out of the lab and into the marketplace. Previous awardees of the commercialisation fund include AudioSourceRE, Cala Medical and Senoptica Technologies.

The agency’s senior commercialisation specialist, Eithne McShane, said: “The commercialisation fund is an avenue for Ireland’s brightest scientists to commercialise their research and bring it to the market.

“At Enterprise Ireland, we recognise that funding innovation is key to ensuring that the Irish economy remains competitive on the world stage through the creation of technology-based start-up companies and the transfer of innovations developed in higher education institutions and research-performing organisations to industry in Ireland.”

In the latest iteration of the commercialisation fund, two research projects from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and one from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) will receive investment. All three projects are led by women.

“The medical research being undertaken by each of their teams will be looking at issues such as infectious diseases, adult blindness and drug delivery,” McShane added.

“We have seen in recent months the importance of medical research and look forward to assisting each on their journey to the marketplace with the ultimate goal of improving lives.”

Gene therapies for retinal disorders

One of the two projects from TCD is a study focusing on the development of gene therapies for common retinal disorders, led by principal investigator Prof Jane Farrar.

Farrar’s team is researching age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the most common cause of blindness in the developed world. There are two distinct forms of AMD: dry and wet. While there are several treatments for wet AMD, there are no licensed medical therapies for dry AMD, which represents about 90pc of AMD cases and affects approximately 150m people globally.

The team has developed a novel gene therapy for dry AMD, based on a yeast-derived gene encoding mitochondrial complex in an adeno-associated virus vector. A commercial case feasibility study was conducted in 2019, with backing from Enterprise Ireland.

Among the outcomes targeted through the fresh funding from Enterprise Ireland are the development of in-vitro human retinal pigment epithelial cell models and the finalisation of in-vivo preclinical data packs for therapies with associated study reports, as well as the initiation of key commercialisation activities.

Adjuvenate

Led by TCD’s Prof Aisling Dunne, Adjuvenate is developing a platform solution for improved subunit vaccines. The research is being conducted in response to the rise in infectious disease and the need to develop new vaccines that are capable of eliciting effective and sustained immune responses.

Adjuvenate focuses specifically on whooping cough, which is on the rise due to the inability of current vaccines to provide sustained immunity, according to the TCD researchers. They said that new, more effective adjuvants are needed, which would enable vaccine makers to produce a sustained, lasting immune response.

The team has discovered and patented a new whooping-cough vaccine component, which may have the potential to be a third-generation standalone booster vaccine for whooping cough.

The commercialisation fund will support the further development of this novel adjuvant to develop a new vaccine. In addition, the team will continue to develop the adjuvant molecule as a novel adjuvant for combination with other new vaccines in development.

StarMat Technologies

The RCSI project receiving funding is StarMat Technologies, which focuses on star-shaped polypeptide materials for biomedical applications. Led by Prof Sally Ann Cryan with Prof Andreas Heise, the team is examining ways in which its patented StarMat technology can be tailored to deliver specific drug payloads.

The technology can be integrated with medical devices when required to target specific tissues and cells, and may be particularly well suited to applications in biotherapeutic delivery in respiratory and regenerative medicine.

The team conducted a commercial feasibility study, funded by Enterprise Ireland, through which the researchers worked with multiple industry partners. Their analysis highlighted the demand for direct-to-cell delivery technologies, particularly advanced therapeutics medicinal products. This includes nucleic acid-based therapies, such as RNA-based technologies, which are being used in some of the Covid-19 vaccine technologies currently in development.

The commercialisation funding will be used will support the development of scalable processes for drug payload incorporation, product refinement and further toxicology studies.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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