Pfizer Process Development Centre (PDC) announces collaboration with UCC's Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility

31 Oct 2008

Pfizer and University College Cork (UCC) have today (Friday, October 31st 2008) announced a joint collaboration involving the installation of a state-of-the-art 400MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer in UCC's Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility (ABCRF).

The spectrometer will be used daily by researchers from both the ABCRF and Pfizer's Process Development Centre and will enhance UCC's reputation as a world-class research institution and educator in state-of the-art research and technology for Ireland's rapidly developing pharmaceutical industry.

The ABCRF, under the direction of Professor Anita Maguire, is housed together with UCC's School of Pharmacy in the new state-of-the-art Cavanagh Pharmacy Building.  Welcoming this new partnership with Pfizer, Professor Maguire commended Pfizer's visionary approach to industry-university interaction, and said that she anticipated further expansion of this key research collaboration in the future.

"NMR spectroscopy is used widely for pharmaceutical analyses throughout the world and is one of the most powerful techniques for structure determination of organic compounds such as those used as pharmaceuticals," said Dr Liam Tully, Head of Pfizer PDC.  "The partnership with the ABCRF provides our researchers in the PDC access to both the infrastructure and expertise we need in the area of NMR to drive our innovative R&D programmes which focus on new manufacturing routes and technologies for Pfizer's key products.  We are delighted to be involved in this collaboration with UCC which represents a total investment in excess of €1 million, and look forward to working with Professor Maguire and her team."  

Endorsing the partnership between UCC and Pfizer, UCC President, Dr Michael Murphy said, "Partnerships such as this are vital for the university to fulfill its ambition to provide the highest quality research-led teaching to its 18,860 strong student cohort while contributing to the growth of industry in the area through the provision of research and services."  He highlighted the recent success of UCC in increasing its ranking in the Times Higher World University Rankings (,62437,en.html) and acknowledged the support of Atlantic Philanthropies (AP) and the Higher Education Authority of Ireland (HEA) who have been instrumental in the introduction of the hugely beneficial Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI).  "UCC, incorporating the ABCRF, has benefited considerably from PRTLI enabling it to achieve significant success in research internationally" he added.


Background Information

NMR spectroscopy
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy revolutionized research in synthetic organic chemistry since its discovery in 1945 and its introduction as a key technique for determination of the molecular structure of compounds over 40 years ago. It allows detailed study of each of the atoms in a compound individually. The most commonly studied are hydrogen and carbon, but a very wide range of elements including fluorine can be investigated. Nobel Prizes awarded in 1954 to Bloch and Purcell, and in 1991 to Ernst highlight the importance of this technique.
More recently, this technique has been employed for the development of MRI scanners as a powerful non-invasive tool for medical investigation.

About Pfizer PDC
The Process Development Centre (PDC) was established in Cork in 2002 to develop improved synthetic routes to key Pfizer commercial pharmaceuticals.  Using new chemistry and technology the PDC supports the Pfizer network of manufacturing plants globally from their base in Cork. The PDC facilities include extensive laboratories and a new $13 million Kilo Technology laboratory at Ringaskiddy equipped with innovative continuous processing equipment.
The collaboration with UCC is an important component of the PDC capability to undertake process redesign. While undertaking R&D in Cork, the PDC is also an active participant in PhD placement programmes, where postgraduates spend three to six months in Pfizer gaining valuable industrial experience.  The current PDC ABCRF partnership is a further extension of joint efforts to enhance the attractiveness and value of pharmaceutical research and development in Ireland.

About the UCC Cavanagh Pharmacy Building
The Cavanagh Pharmacy Building at UCC, built at a cost of €22.3m, was officially opened on March 6th 2006 by Mr Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs (former Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment). The Cavanagh Pharmacy Building comprises some 5,600m2 of teaching and research laboratories, lecture theatres and seminar rooms and support space. It is home to both the undergraduate and postgraduate facilities of UCC's new School of Pharmacy, as well as to the university's Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility (ABCRF), and also houses a dedicated industry suite to facilitate collaboration between UCC and the pharmaceutical industry. The Cavanagh Pharmacy Building is located adjacent to the university's BioSciences Institute and the BioTransfer Unit to facilitate leading edge university-industry research collaborations.

 "The Cavanagh Pharmacy Building, by housing both the School of Pharmacy and the ABCRF, demonstrates UCC's commitment to the belief that research and teaching should be integrated, as they enhance each other," said Professor Anita Maguire, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Director of the ABCRF (

The Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility
Research teams from Organic, Pharmaceutical, Bioinorganic and Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutics are collaborating through this interdisciplinary research centre established through PRTLI3. Research in the ABCRF is focused on projects at the Chemistry-Biology interface for example the design of new drugs targeted against cancer and HIV, sensitive methods for the detection of important biomolecules, design and development of biosensors where the levels of important compounds are detected in living systems, investigation of the solid state properties of pharmaceuticals and how this impacts on formulation of drug products. The strategic intent is to produce postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers trained to work in both the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical sectors with broad knowledge of pharmaceutical sciences. The core technologies underpinning the centre are Synthesis, Separation and Detection/Characterisation spanning low molecular weight compounds (small molecules) up to larger biomolecules such as proteins. In this way the output of the centre in terms of research results and skilled people will be of value to both the pharmachem sector and the rapidly developing biopharmaceutical sector.

The ABCRF, directed by Professor Anita Maguire, consists of over 100 researchers, of which ~60 are PhD students while the remainder are postdoctoral researchers led by a team of 19 Principal Investigators.

Current industrial interactions through the ABCRF include Novartis, Pfizer, GSK, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Merck, Roche

Pictured at UCC today (October 31st 2008) were L-R: Liam Tully, Head of Pfizer PDC, Professor Anita Maguire, Director, Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility, UCC; Dr Paul Duffy, Pfizer's Vice President of Manufacturing for Ireland & Singapore; Dr Michael Murphy, President, UCC and Tom O'Neill, Site Leader, Pfizer, Ringaskiddy.

Speech by Tom O'Neill, Site Leader, Pfizer, Ringaskiddy    

President, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Pfizer, and as mentioned by Liam Tully, this event today is a very appropriate way to recognise and indeed appreciate the continuing partnership between Pfizer and UCC.

Liam has spoken about the significance of the more recent aspects of the partnership through our Process Development Centre and the ABCRF. I would like for a few minutes to reflect on how the partnership originally began and of the strategic role that it has played for Pfizer in Ireland over many years.

In the early to mid-90s, Pfizer’s Research Division had a very healthy pipeline of new products, well above the industry norm and above our traditional levels. These new products were developed between our two major research centres, Sandwich, Kent in the United Kingdom, and Groton, Connecticut, USA. When these products had completed their clinical studies cycle and were ready for large-scale commercial manufacture, a decision had to be taken as to where they would be produced. That was a very important decision as it was clear that it would keep whichever site was involved busy for many years. The primary choice of location rested between three plants: a manufacturing facility across the street from the Sandwich Research facility, a manufacturing facility directly across the street from the Groton Research facility, and Pfizer’s Irish plant in Ringaskiddy.  It is easier for a Research Chemist to transfer his chemistry to an Engineer across the street than to a location either several hundred or several thousand miles away so we were clearly at a geographical disadvantage to the other two plants.

However, we were given the opportunity to show our ability on the early new products. We went on to become the nominated site of manufacture of new products and consolidated that in the following years through an approach that was built upon strong technical performance. At that time, we had two Development Chemists on our plant, Kieran Dignam and Geraldine Druhan, both contemporaries of Dr. Dan McCarthy.

Initially, we performed well in terms of large scale manufacture through technical expertise along with high safety and quality standards. Key to our performance was our flexibility of approach which led to an ability to implement change quickly. The chemistry of processes received from research was under-developed and in many instances, changes had to be made ‘on-the-run’. The social side of things was also important and we ensured that our visitors from research were well entertained and happy to do business in Ireland. The entertainment involved many weekend sight-seeing trips to the Ring of Kerry and many became regular visitors to the Spailpín Fánach in South Main Street to hear some Irish music. This influencing should not be under-estimated in terms of the value it adds to a business process.

Secondly, and this is where UCC came in, following scale-up, we focussed on improving the chemistry of our processes to make the processes less expensive and more efficient. We had seen on scale-up that the opportunities existed to improve process design. By now, we had increased our staff to five Development Chemists and we asked Professor Anita Maguire to support is. Anita gave a series of tutorials which took the chemistry of the Pfizer steps apart and put them together again. That provided critical input to our ability to improve the chemistry. For instance, I recall a process which involved a Knoevenagel followed by a Hantsche reaction which took 43 hours to run on plant. The knowledge we gained from Anita in terms of reaction temperatures and conditions reduced this to 2 hours with associated cost and efficiency savings and actually freed up plant equipment to allow us make more products.

I know that this was Anita’s first foray into partnering with industry so we each gained significant benefit from it.

The technical reputation of Pfizer in Ireland soared on the basis of our technical performance. We have thankfully been able to provide employment opportunities for many graduates in Chemistry and the technical group has grown to be home to between 70 and 80 Chemistry graduates today. Chemistry graduates have built strong careers on the basis of this success. In fact, within my own team in Ringaskiddy, of 11 people at Director level, 8 are graduates in Chemistry and lead such diverse functions as Quality Operations, Production, Supply Chain and Environmental Health and Safety.

In recent years, our business has become far more challenging and we are undergoing a phase of declining manufacture. In recent months, each remaining site in the Pfizer world has had its strategic role redefined or confirmed and it is encouraging to see that Pfizer Ringaskiddy today is still the nominated Pfizer site for new product scale-up and ongoing process development. We are still strongly focussed on technical performance and our relationship with Research.  In fact, some of our people still make the trip to the Spailpín Fánach and the Ring of Kerry – all in the name of Pfizer strategy.

I hope that this gives you an insight into how strategically important the relationship between UCC and Pfizer has been for us. It is indeed appropriate to take the opportunity to acknowledge the historical and continued importance of that partnership to us in Pfizer.

Thank you.



Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility

Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility Cavanagh Pharmacy Building University College Cork College Road, Cork