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Partnership targets treatment advances for major diseases

04 December 2009

A partnership between a world-leading research group at Cardiff University and an Oxford-based biotechnology company will refine new drugs to treat cancer, HIV and autoimmune disease.

A team led by Professor Andy Sewell of the University's School of Medicine will share its pioneering research into T-cells with Immunocore Limited as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) aimed at advancing drug design and testing.

The T-cells of the human immune system are able to see inside other cells to identify when they become cancerous or infected with bacteria or viruses. A molecule on the T-cell surface called the T-cell receptor detects these anomalies and enables T-cells to destroy abnormal cells.

Technology developed by Immunocore has refined T-cell receptors so that they can be used as drugs that seek out and destroy abnormal or infected cells. Novel technology from the Cardiff group will be used to enhance targeting of these ‘smart weapons’.

The partnership will also enable Immunocore to continuously monitor what their drugs bind to during product development, reducing project failures and cycle times by using additional pioneering technology developed at Cardiff.

Professor Andy Sewell said: "I am thrilled to get this partnership with Immunocore. Their technologies are truly revolutionary as they enable the precise targeting of cells for immune destruction. Immunocore technology allows any cell within the body to be ‘marked’ for immune destruction with exquisite sensitivity and specificity. I am very excited about the future prospects for this approach and we are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Immunocore to improve the ‘homing’ of their drugs. It is hoped that this KTP will result in new treatments for cancer and stubborn infections such as HIV and tuberculosis."

Commenting on their involvement in the partnership, Dr Bent Jakobsen, Chief Scientific Officer of Immunocore Limited said: "Immunocore is looking forward to starting this collaborative project with Cardiff University. This is an excellent example of cutting-edge research yielding an important commercial advantage in the real world."

Professor Ken Woodhouse, Cardiff University's Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engagement said: "Cardiff University academics undertake world-leading research and have expertise that can benefit businesses in Wales and beyond. This Knowledge Transfer Partnership between the School of Medicine and Immunocore is a great example of how pioneering University research can help accelerate innovative product development and advance treatment for these major diseases."

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme part-funded by the government to help businesses and organisations improve their competitiveness, productivity or both through the use of the knowledge, technology and skills that reside within academic institutions such as Cardiff University.

The KTP between the School of Medicine and Immunocore will fund an associate who will undertake this work and obtain a diploma in management. The team expect to be recruiting to this post during December.

The project will last for three years and has been 75 percent funded by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and 25 percent by The Technology Strategy Board.

1. School of Medicine
The School of Medicine was established in Cardiff in 1931. Until 1984 it was known as the Welsh National School of Medicine when it obtained a Royal Charter to reflect the school’s expanded horizons, size and reputation. It later became the University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM). In August 2004, UWCM merged with Cardiff University and the School of Medicine now forms part of the Wales College of Medicine with its four original partners in the healthcare education field. In 1995, the college introduced an exciting new medical curriculum from which students are able to combine and use knowledge, skills and judgement and develop appropriate attitudes to deliver a high standard of professional care.

The School’s 21 academic departments are organised into three divisions: Division of Clinical Laboratory Science, Division of Community Specialities and Division of Hospital Specialities. The pre-clinical years are spent within the School of Biosciences before moving on to the University Hospital at Heath Park for the remainder of the course.

The School has a strong international reputation for research. Research facilities have recently been enhanced with the £11m Henry Wellcome Building for Biomedical Research in Wales. The building includes 4500 square metres of state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment for research into Infection & Immunity, Cancer Biology and Psychiatric Genetics, adjacent to a purpose-built Clinical Research Facility. The Henry Wellcome Building is the largest development of its kind ever undertaken in Wales and will be a flagship for biomedical research in Wales and the Principality.

2. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Visit the University website at:

Victoria Dando

Public Relations

Cardiff University

Tel: 02920 879074