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updated 3:00 PM BST, Apr 15, 2015
Technology and life sciences news from the Cambridge cluster

$10m neuroscience drug discovery centre for Cambridge

Elan Corporation is to pump up to $10 million over five years into a neuroscience R&D centre at Cambridge University focused on drug discovery.

The Cambridge-Elan Centre for Research Innovation and Drug Discovery will use a highly interdisciplinary environment to try and deliver world-leading translational research focused on therapies for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

The Centre brings Elan's experience in Alzheimer's research and its depth in biology and model systems together with the University's pioneering contributions in the development of biophysical approaches to study the molecular basis of protein misfolding and aggregation, and their links to disease, which are widely believed to be highly significant.

The money will to some extent be performance related. The initial commitment from Elan is for five years with the potential to extend to 10 based on the team's success or otherwise in discovering novel compounds that lead to new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders.

Professor Christopher Dobson, the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology at Cambridge, said the new centre would bring together the skills of scientists working in an academic institution and in a biotechnology company to develop new and more effective therapies for some of the most devastating and increasingly common human diseases.

He said: "I believe that we are creating a Centre that will become globally recognised for innovation. Our collective expertise, proven ability to collaborate, and open innovation model provide an exciting basis for the future."

Protein folding, misfolding and turnover are seen as central to neurological disease. Under the new partnership, the Centre will address the interconnecting biology and biophysics of protein misfolding in multiple disease areas simultaneously and in a timely way for the ultimate benefit of patients.

Headquartered in Dublin, Elan is a neuroscience focused biotech which reported a total revenue of over $1.16 billion for 2010. It's main R&D facility is based in San Francisco, USA.

"This agreement is a natural next step in the existing working relationship between our scientists in South San Francisco and scientists at the University of Cambridge," said Dale Schenk, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Elan.

"This collaborative effort complements our portfolio of programmes in neuroscience and supports the process of discovery which we believe may lead to a class of therapeutics that no one has thought possible before."

Funding for dementia lags behind other serious diseases according to Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, which has provided funding to members of Professor Dobson's team in the past. He said: "We welcome any development that can boost our efforts in this area. If we are to develop an effective treatment that's so desperately needed for Alzheimer's, it's crucial that we understand the causes of the disease.

"We have been proud to support this team's work to unravel how proteins 'misfold' and become toxic in Alzheimer's, and we're delighted to see this research move forward with such an exciting collaboration. By working together and pooling their expertise, scientists can improve the quality of their work and make faster progress."