Issue Date: June 7, 2004
Foreign Pharma Firm's Caribbean Research Outposts Are A Boon To UWI
It's not China or India, but the Caribbean is reaping modest benefits from continued trends in pharmaceutical outsourcing, too. In the past decade, the University of the West Indies (UWI) has convinced an international pharmaceutical firm to set up small, independent R&D operations in two of the university's chemistry departments. The arrangement has brought both departments research dollars and financial support for postgraduate students, not to mention some sorely needed jobs.
The Canadian pharmaceutical company Biochem Pharma first set up shop in the chemistry department at UWI Cave Hill, in Barbados, in 1996, shortly after natural products chemist Winston F. Tinto joined the department. Under his direction, the Tanaud Laboratory at UWI Cave Hill is testing extracts from Barbadian plants and marine organisms for antiviral activity.
The Tanaud Laboratory at UWI Mona, in Jamaica, was set up in that campus's chemistry department in 1998. Senior research scientist Peter Ruddock, who did his Ph.D. at UWI Mona, guides the lab's efforts to synthesize building blocks for combinatorial synthesis of libraries for antiviral drug discovery.
These arrangements benefit the university in a number of ways. Both Tanauds pay their home chemistry department "rent" for the lab space they occupy. In addition, each lab provides its department with some unrestricted research funds as well as a number of scholarships for postgraduate students. And it's a valuable source of jobs for the departments' Ph.D. graduates: The Tanaud Laboratory in Barbados employs six UWI grads while Jamaica's Tanaud has a staff of eight UWI-trained synthetic chemists.
The labs' parent, Biochem Pharma, was acquired by British pharmaceutical giant Shire Pharmaceuticals Group in 2001. The two Tanaud labs operate autonomously from Shire, although the firm does help to review their scientific work every year. The pharma firm is impressed with the quality of the labs' scientific work and the enthusiasm of their scientists, a Shire spokesperson tells C&EN.
Both UWI Cave Hill and UWI Mona hope to attract similar arrangements in the future. "Here, you can get a lot done for less," Tinto says. He's also quick to point out that both Jamaica and Barbados are English-speaking islands and have a good history of respecting patent protection.
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