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£5million donation to University from former student will change lives

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Published on 18 January 2023

John Dawson
John Dawson

The largest ever individual donation to the University of Sunderland from a former student and pharmaceutical entrepreneur aims to help improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Today, the University announces the creation of the John Dawson Drug Discovery and Development Research Institute on its City campus in Sunderland.

The Institute will be created following a £5million donation from John Dawson and his wife, Sam. John, a former student of the University, is the former CEO of Alliance Pharma, a world-leading international healthcare organisation.

The announcement is the latest in a series of projects, including last year’s opening of a £5million anatomy centre, which is putting the University on the frontline of health-related education, training, research, and innovation

The new Research Institute will play a key role in turning laboratory research and innovation into life-changing therapies for clinical practice, working closely with the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry.

John said: “Fifty years on from graduating in Pharmacy at Sunderland and having developed a career in the pharmaceutical industry, I was pleased to reconnect with the University a couple of years ago.

“I was immediately impressed by the developments that had been achieved in that intervening half-century and was keen to assist the University continue its development, particularly in the health arena.

“I am therefore delighted to facilitate the University’s new Drug Discovery and Development Research Institute and look forward to working with the team as they bring projects to fruition.”

The Institute will be housed in the University’s Sciences Complex, which will be renamed The John Dawson Sciences Complex.

Sir David Bell KCB DL, the University’s Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive said: “I am enormously grateful to John and Sam Dawson for their immense generosity in supporting this new Research Institute in the crucially important fields of drug discovery and development. The fact that John is ‘one of us’ is an added bonus as his life and career demonstrate the good that our graduates do in so many different walks of life”.

The Institute will bring together expertise in clinical, laboratory and data science to address issues of local, national and international importance.

After graduating from Sunderland Polytechnic in 1970, John went on to build a successful career in the pharmaceutical field. He founded the prescription medicines and consumer healthcare company, Alliance Pharma Plc in 1996, that commenced trading in 1998.

Over the next 20 years, the company expanded, and John turned Alliance Pharma Plc into an international pharmaceutical powerhouse with sales exceeding £100m.

The company, which commenced with two full-time employees in the UK, has now more than 200 employees, operating out of 10 offices in nine countries.

In 2019 John, who was born in Newcastle, stepped down from Alliance Pharma.

The new Institute will focus on areas including the discovery of new medicines for the treatment of rare inherited metabolic diseases, developing targeted delivery methods and technologies to improve pharmaceutical manufacturing processes, as well as the development and application of machine learning tools for early disease detection.

Key to the development of the institute concept has been recent success in obtaining £175,000 from the Northern Accelerator, £300,000 from the MRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) (with a further contribution of £150,000 from the University) and through Innovate UK KTP awards to support development of translational research projects.

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