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Entrepreneurial graduate launches £5m research institute in his name

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Published on 20 April 2023

John Dawson and his wife Sam at the University of Sunderland's Sciences Complex
John Dawson and his wife Sam at the University of Sunderland's Sciences Complex

The University of Sunderland today launches The John Dawson Drug Discovery and Development Research Institute to improve the health and the wellbeing of millions of people worldwide. 

The Institute is being created thanks to a generous £5million donation from pharmaceutical entrepreneur John Dawson and his wife, Sam. John, a graduate of the University, is the former CEO of Alliance Pharma, a world-leading international healthcare organisation.

This is the largest ever individual donation made to the University of Sunderland and will help improve the lives of people around the world.

John and Sam were joined today (April 20) by specially invited guests from across the region’s health, education, and business communities, to launch the Institute, housed in the University’s Sciences Complex, which has now been renamed The John Dawson Sciences Complex.

Unveiling a plaque inside the building, in recognition of his contribution, John said: “It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be able to launch the new Drug Discovery and Development Research Institute at the University of Sunderland today.

“It’s been wonderful to be back on the campus and see the incredible developments that have taken place since I studied pharmacy here more than 50 years ago. 

“I was immediately impressed at what has been achieved in that intervening half-century and I’ve been delighted to assist the University continue its development, particularly in the health arena.

“I hope the launch of this institute will mark the next phase in the University’s evolution and I’m very much looking forward to working with the team as they bring their projects to fruition.”

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

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.

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.”

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 now exceeding £170m.

The company, which commenced with two full-time employees in the UK, now has more than 280 employees, operating out of nine offices in eight 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 Medical Research Council Impact Acceleration Account (with a further contribution of £150,000 from the University) and through Innovate UK KTP awards to support development of translational research projects.