On a mission to transform lives

Allergan Biologics is a leader in Growth Pharma and there is a buzz about the company as it tackles a series of debilitating diseases that have global effects

By Mike Cowley

Click to access article as a .pdf

When Linda Randall arrives at work in Speke each morning, a stone’s throw from Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, she could well be considered unusual in that she always starts her day with a sense of excitement as to what might lie ahead. However, she is not alone: so do all the other 100-plus white-coated development scientists to be found at the uber hi-tech, life science facility Allergan Biologics.

The buzz that seems to permeate the workforce is because they are all on a mission, which could help transform the lives of people who face a series of debilitating diseases which afflict a sizeable part of the world’s population.

A potential treatment for macular degeneration, an age related eye disease which leads to blindness, and currently affects circa 200 million people world-wide according to The Lancet, is one of three key areas of development going on in the Liverpool suburb. The drug, Abicipar, is in the final stages of clinical testing and with the prospect that administration maybe as infrequently as every three months, some analysts are predicting blockbuster sales potential.

This Liverpool team are also focusing on gastrointestinal medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease, which affects close to 250,000 people in the UK (NHS stats); and finally dermatology – including psoriasis – which the World Health Organisation estimates has 100 million sufferers globally.

For Allergan Liverpool is the R&D centre of excellence for the design and development of new biological drugs working with their sister lab in Irvine California. Alongside modern laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, sits their modern multi-product clinical manufacturing unit that produces the bulk drug substance – the active ingredient in the pharmaceutical product, for use in groundbreaking clinical trials.

It is the UK R&D arm of Allergan plc, a global pharmaceutical company with headquarters in Dublin, Ireland and an administrative head office in New Jersey, USA, which is a leader in the new industry model – Growth Pharma. This sees it developing, manufacturing and commercialising innovative branded pharmaceuticals and biologic products for patients around the world including treatments for Parkinson’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Operating in more than 100 countries, Allergan plc has more than 16,000 employees with a branded revenue for 2016 of $15bn and branded R&D investment of $1.5bn with a growth target of 10%.

Its CEO Brent Saunders is also on record as pledging that Allergan will conform to social responsibility in its drug pricing policy. Last year, Allergan Biologics celebrated its 10-year anniversary in Speke, the site has gone through a series of name changes through acquisitions which is not unusual in the pharma industry, but it is probably best known in the area as Eden Biodesign. This was launched in the early 2000s as a contract manufacturing business, and several of its original founders can still be found in senior positions at Allergan.

What makes Allergan Biologics different, if not unique, among pharma companies in the UK is that via its Open Science model it enriches the internal R&D pipeline through collaborations and partnerships enabling them to work on a full range of product technologies, such as antibodies and gene therapies. For Allergan’s staff this offers the challenge to work in overcoming a wide range of technical problems that will deliver the products of the future.

Allergan has an open door policy in working with SMEs active in related drug fields in order to partner with them to achieve its and their objectives and welcome any approach.
The company also has a policy of acquisitions to meet its objectives with one of the latest deals involving the $60m up-front payment to purchase the Ann Arbor Michigan, US, based company Retrosense whose expertise includes gene therapy for an inherited rare eye disease which results in loss of peripheral and night vision, so essentially a perfect fit for Allergan as a leader in eye care. The team in Speke are now actively supporting the development of this exciting new therapy.

Investment at the site of some $90m in research facilities in general and analytic tools such as mass spectrometry in particular has ensured its scientists have the cutting edge techniques to understand these complex molecules, which is seen by many as the key to success. The company now has one of the most advanced Bioassay laboratories in the UK which was opened in September last year and the robots they have working is enabling them to speed up the development process.

Through their Open Science model they regularly work in close collaboration with Northern Universities including the University of Manchester, Liverpool University, Liverpool John Moores and the University of Sheffield.

Allergan actively takes in seven work placement students annually from the universities which is mutually beneficial to the company, the student and the university as well as sponsoring MSc and PhD students working in the universities.

And the company also has an eye on the future, with six apprentices on the payroll at any one time and its younger scientists regularly going out to speak at local schools and colleges about exciting career opportunities in pharma because of the pipeline of some 14 projects on which Allergan is currently working.

This is all part of ensuring that it is still very much part of the Liverpool and Northern scene to which it is making a significant contribution and which involves it working with Liverpool LEP and being a key member of Bionow – from who the site were previous recipients of the Company of the Year Award – the membership body which is the voice of the Life Science sector in the North and on whose strategic advisory board Linda Randall sits.

Allergan's Linda Randall sits on the strategic advisory board of Bionow
Allergan’s Linda Randall sits on the strategic advisory board of Bionow

Yet what people might find distinctly odd outside the pharma sector is that Allergan Biologics has been up and running for all these years and has yet to see any of its projects get to market.

However, as the average length of time is in the region of a decade to get a drug to market this seems of little concern. But just how close are they to getting there? Confidentiality is critical to the industry so the company line is held at “late stage development” but it says “there is a healthy pipeline of drugs.”

Though the potential for success in the near future may well account for the spring in the step of Linda Randall when she arrives at work each morning to pursue a career in drug development, she admits she fell into by accident. For when she left the University of Sheffield with a degree and a PhD in chemistry, she had no idea what she wanted to do.

“The first offer I got was from a drug company and that’s how it happened,” she recalls.

“But I have never regretted it for one minute. There is something about drug development and how it can affect people’s lives; it is the difference it could make that makes it so exciting and fulfilling.

“Every day I am excited to go into work because of the scientific advances we will make in drug development and not everyone can say that …”

For more information visit allergan.co.uk