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Almac Dx Opens Bioinformatics Facility to Meet Biopharma Demand

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By Justin Petrone

Capping a year of "significant growth" in headcount, UK-based Almac Diagnostics this week announced the establishment of a new bioinformatics facility in Manchester.

According to a company official, the Craigavon, UK-based company opened the facility in response to an increase in the number of clinical trial-related projects it has commenced with biopharmaceutical companies.

"Within Almac Diagnostics we have engaged in a number of partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies providing biomarker solutions to support clinical trials," Austin Tanney, scientific liaison manager for the firm, told BioArray News this week. "This has required us to grow our core expertise in bioinformatics, R&D, operations, and quality."

Paul Harkin, president and managing director of Almac Diagnostics, said the expansion is expected to increase the firm's expertise in "companion diagnostic development, pharmacodynamic biomarkers, disease classification, and prognostic markers." The bioinformatics group will specialize in gene selection, disease characterization, and classification, he said in a statement.

Almac Diagnostics is part of the Almac Group, which offers drug development services to the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Almac Diagnostics has developed a number of disease-specific arrays that are manufactured on the Affymetrix GeneChip platform for indications such as lung, colorectal, breast, and ovarian cancers.

One ambition of Almac Diagnostics is to launch array-based clinical tests. Diagnostics to detect colorectal cancer recurrence and early-stage lung cancer are the furthest along in the development pipeline (see BAN 8/19/2008). Tanney declined to provide an update on the firm's diagnostics at this time.

While the company prepares a pipeline of prognostic and diagnostic assays in these disease areas for eventual launch, it is also partnering with biopharmaceutical companies to develop potential companion diagnostic tests.

In May, for instance, Almac inked a deal with Pfizer and researchers from the Pan-European Trials in Adjuvant Colon Cancer effort to discover molecular subtypes, biomarkers, and drug targets related to colorectal cancer (see BAN 5/26/2009).

Four months later it announced a partnership with Lilly UK to develop a companion diagnostic for Alimta (pemetrexed) with cisplatin as a combination therapy for non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

It was due in part to deals like these that Almac needed to invest in its bioinformatics resources, Tanney said this week. "The expansion strengthens our bioinformatics teams, enabling us to undertake more and larger studies and add to our current knowlegebase," said Tanney.

According to Almac Group, head count in the Diagnostics business, which also has facilities in Durham, NC, grew 15 percent in the UK and 10 percent in the US during 2009. Almac, which also has sciences, clinical services, clinical technologies, and pharma services divisions, currently employs around 2,500 worldwide.

Prior to the recent bioinformatics group expansion, Tanney said that Almac Diagnostics maintained bioinformatics teams at both the Craigavon and Durham sites. He said the firm chose Manchester as a satellite site because it "allows us to have a presence in mainland UK," Tanney said. Manchester also has "good connections both to Northern Ireland and to international locations."

Across all three sites, Almac Diagnostics now employs a staff of 20 bioinformaticians. Tanney said he expects the team to grow in 2010.

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