The Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility (ABCRF) is a state of the art interdisciplinary research centre housed in the Pharmacy Building, University College Cork. Directed by Professor Anita Maguire, the ABCRF recognises that most of the key developments in the Pharmaceutical area today take place at the Chemistry-Biology interface, with interdisciplinary teams of researchers drawn from Chemistry, Pharmacy and the BioSciences contributing to the design and development of new pharmaceutical agents. Accordingly, with the support of PRTLI3 and PRTLI4, UCC has established this new research facility combining researchers from Chemistry - Synthetic and Analytical - and Biochemistry to bridge these two research disciplines.
Clearly, complementary research expertise within the ABCRF, The BioSciences Institute, School of Pharmacy, Biotransfer Unit and Tyndall National Institute will lead to exciting research collaborations in the future.
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The Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility
The Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility was funded under PRTLI3 and therefore commenced as a research grouping in 2003. The ABCRF brought together for the first time the research teams in Chemistry and Biochemistry working in areas of research relevant to the pharmaceutical sector, albeit with the various research teams located in a number of different locations across the campus. Over 2003-2005, design and construction of the dedicated research labs and infrastructure was undertaken.
In 2006, the Pharmacy Building was opened, and the ABCRF moved into this building together with the new School of Pharmacy, thereby creating a state-of-the-art centre for research in the pharmaceutical sciences at University College Cork. The ABCRF occupies 1200 m2 in the Pharmacy Building (ca. €5.2M capital investment), consisting of research laboratories for Biochemistry, Analytical and BioAnalytical Chemistry and Synthetic (Organic, Medicinal, Pharmaceutical, BioInorganic) Chemistry, and instrument rooms for large infrastructural equipment (LC-MS and NMR in basement, PXRD and single crystal X-ray diffraction in a dedicated Solid State Pharmaceuticals lab on the 2nd floor) and associated office and write-up space. A strategic decision was made at the outset of the building design to co-locate the ABCRF Biochemistry lab in the 1st floor with the Drug Delivery and Pharmaceutics research teams of the School of Pharmacy, and to co-locate the ABCRF Chemistry labs with the Pharmaceutical Chemistry research teams of the School of Pharmacy on the 2nd floor of the Pharmacy Building, with shared central facilities such as cold rooms, utility areas, board room etc to encourage interaction and collaboration between the ABCRF and SOP researchers. As the ABCRF researchers are mainly based in the College of Science, Engineering and Food Science, while the School of Pharmacy is in the College of Medicine and Health, the Pharmacy Building is one of the major buildings at the interface between the two Colleges.
Photo: The Pharmacy Building
Extensive collaboration exists between the various locations in terms of equipment and resources. The Pharmacy Building also contains a number of facilities relating to interaction with the pharmaceutical industry – an industrial suite (120 m2), an aseptic suite and a processing suite, critical to the mission of the ABCRF in interacting with the sector. Access to these key resources to underpin collaboration with industry is one of the outstanding features of the ABCRF; indeed when Pfizer commenced the Process Development Centre in Cork in 2003 they occupied labs in UCC for the first year until their own facilities were constructed. More recently GSK researchers have occupied the industry suite.
To undertake world class research programmes at the Chemistry-Biology interface focused on:
The key feature is that the research programmes will apply these core techniques to compounds spanning the range from small molecules to large biomolecules thereby bridging the traditional gaps between Chemistry and Biochemistry.
To create an interdisciplinary environment where research towards the development of novel pharmaceutical agents both independently and in collaboration with industry is enabled.
To train postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers for careers in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical sectors.
The research strategy of the centre is focused on bringing together interdisciplinary teams of researchers working in areas of Chemistry and Biochemistry relevant to the pharmaceutical sciences; strategic partnership with the researchers in the School of Pharmacy especially teams with expertise in formulation, drug delivery and mode of action provides the full range of research expertise to ensure effective multidisciplinary research in all aspects of pharmaceutical sciences.
Drug discovery and development is a very exciting area of research critically dependent on effective interdisciplinary teams bringing together expertise in target discovery, mode of action, medicinal and synthetic chemistry, analysis, drug formulation and delivery. The regulatory hurdles posed for new therapeutic agents in terms of safety and efficacy are very high and accordingly the global pipeline of new drugs is currently very limited even among the major pharma companies. Accordingly partnerships between companies and teams of academic researchers have become increasingly important as a mechanism to bring new approaches and discoveries to address this challenge.
The Pharmacy Building grouping brings together research teams with expertise spanning most of the key disciplines required for drug discovery and development, and therefore, UCC is ideally suited to develop meaningful and effective collaborations with companies as the industry evolves, as the traditional disciplinary barriers have already been reduced. It is clear that PhD graduates from the ABCRF as they develop careers in the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland and internationally will be involved in an industry which is developing new therapeutic agents based on both small molecule and biologics. Traditional graduate education in chemistry tends to produce experts in the small molecule arena but with little insight into biologics, while in biosciences PhD graduates who are adept with biomolecules often have limited insight into small molecules. Success in the dynamic global pharmaceutical sector will depend on a flexible and adaptable workforce who can respond to the technical aspects of new therapeutic agents.
One of the objectives of the ABCRF is to ensure that PhD graduates are trained in a flexible interdisciplinary environment providing them with the skills necessary to ensure they can adapt to work on both small and large molecule therapeutic agents as their career in the pharmaceutical industry develops. To achieve this, the ABCRF has been established around three basic themes - Synthesis, Separation and Detection / Characterisation - each encompassing the full range from small molecule to biomolecule to ensure that while the expertise of the researchers is focused in one area they are at least familiar with the other areas through seminars etc.
As many of the PI's have been involved in development of undergraduate programmes in Chemistry with Forensic Science, Chemistry of Pharmaceutical Compounds, Pharmacy, MSc programmes in Biotechnology, Analysis of Pharmaceutical Compounds, Pharmaceutical Technology and Quality Systems (QP course), MEngSc in Pharmaceutical Engineering, a comprehensive learning environment to support multidisciplinary education is in place, with access to up to date modules ranging from topics focused on the full range of small molecules to biomolecules.
The ABCRF is led by a Management Team which meets regularly; this group was particularly active during the design and start-up phase of the building, and is now beginning to pursue joint programmes of research.
- Director – Anita Maguire (Synthetic Chemistry)
- Deputy Director – Jeremy Glennon (Analytical Chemistry)
- Dmitri Papkovsky (Biochemistry)
- Debbie Curran
However, all of the PI's are member of another entity – Schools of Chemistry and Biochemistry, School of Pharmacy, Tyndall Institute and therefore the governance within the ABCRF focuses in particular on the physical research infrastructure and strategic research initiatives e.g. PRTLI4, SFI UREKA and SRC proposals. On a day to day basis the groupings of PI's within each of the areas – Biochemistry, Analytical Chemistry and Synthetic Chemistry - manage their lab space and equipment, interfacing with the relevant departments/school as appropriate.