Liverpool is at the centre of a bid to establish a £39 million centre of excellence that will conduct early-stage research into new drugs to treat cancer and other serious illnesses.

If the project goes ahead, it will create some 250 science jobs in the city over the next five years.

Liverpool-based RedX Pharma has applied for a £5.9 million grant from the government's Regional Growth Fund for an initial two-year research phase. This public-sector support for the proposed project would pave the way for substantial backing from RedX Pharma, its shareholders and investors, totaling some £33.2 million over five years, says the firm.

If the funding bid is success, the new centre will be operational from early 2012 and create some 127 science posts in the first two years at a state-of-the-art chemistry, biochemistry and analytical testing resource. It is anticipated that, as the centre develops between 2014 and 2016, a further 119 science jobs would be generated, including a provision for 24 trainees/apprentices in each of the five years of the project.

Activities would be based around RedX Pharma's existing pipeline of 40 research drug libraries in a wide variety of cancer types, and designed to deliver a flow of experimental drugs for progression into human clinical trials, says the firm.

The project is supported by Liverpool City Council (Liverpool Vision - the city's economic development company), Liverpool University, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre. It will benefit from the local knowledge base and the new biopharmaceutical laboratory infrastructure being created separately in the centre of the city, at both the Liverpool Science Park and the proposed Bio Campus which is part of the redevelopment of Royal Liverpool Hospital.

"We share a vision with the city that life science has a major role to play in the development of Liverpool's future and we believe that our centre of excellence will create the critical mass necessary to create a step change in that strategy," said RedX Pharma's chief executive, Neil Murray.

"The expansion we are proposing and the prospects for Liverpool need to be set in a global context,” he added. “There is a clear trend for big players in the pharma market simply licensing or buying promising early-stage development programmes from smaller, more nimble and innovative biotech companies rather than trying to discover drugs themselves. This approach is reducing risk, lowering costs and increasing returns," said Dr Murray.

Max Steinberg, chief executive of Liverpool Vision, said that with the development of the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and an associated cluster of businesses, the city has the potential to become a world leader in biosciences. 

In addition to the economic and employment benefits brought by the proposed RedX Pharma project, it would "help to ensure that a more effective supply of anti-cancer drugs will be brought to market much more quickly because of the drive and expertise of a UK-based company," Mr Steinberg added.

RedX Pharma, which was launched last year, develops therapeutic remedies based on existing classes of drugs, structurally modifying them to create new proprietary medicines. It is currently progressing programmes in cardiovascular medicine, influenza, antibiotics and neuropathic pain.