Mullingar is home to lots of great things and is often referred to as the music and cultural capital of Ireland, given its links with the late Joe Dolan and of course current pop superstar, Niall Horan.
Next year it will host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the biggest cultural event in the world, with 500,000 visitors expected over the week.
However, there’s much more to the town than just music and culture. Industry and commerce are highly significant and in future years, there may well be a different reason why Mullingar resonates with so many as currently a team of professionals at Elbe Valley Medical, a medical device manufacturer based at Fairgreen, are pioneering a revolutionary treatment in the fight against cancer.
They have patent-pending technology that they believe can be used to treat large and aggressive cancer tumours, making it ideal for the treatment of tumours in late stage cancer patients.
It’s amazing to think that such high level research and development is taking place in our midst and there is this enormous knowledge base located in Mullingar that no one seems to know about it. Perhaps it’s the town’s best kept secret.
Tucked away at Fairgreen, these professionals are creating a therapy for late stage cancer tumours, while everyone goes about their daily routine oblivious to what is happening around them.
Robert Reynolds, who founded the company in the Elbe Valley, Germany, is leading a team of professionals in what could be ground-breaking research and development work.
Topic’s Damien Maher went along to meet the people involved in this fascinating project.
Dr Karl Ackland, a Senior Scientist from Clontarf, has been with Elbe Valley Medical for five months and commutes daily from Dublin to Mullingar.
He is an experimental physicist and is involved in carrying out pioneering research and development work in Mullingar.
Dr Ackland holds a PhD in Magnetism from Trinity College, Dublin, and was also involved in post doctoral research there prior to joining Elbe Valley Medical.
Bringing that knowledge and experience to the start-up environment in Mullingar is an added advantage.
“We are finalising the concept… as someone with a PhD background, it’s like what materials are we going to use, what are the sizes of the layers going to be, and how we’re going to put the device together – from a physics perspective. It’s exciting to translate those skills into a real world application that’s going to be in development really soon, “ he explained.
It feels like the Elbe Valley Medical story is one still waiting to be told, a development that’s potentially hugely significant, yet going undetected in Mullingar.
“We go out to lunch and come back in to our little hub. We are flying under the radar and hopefully we are going to break out soon,” he added.
Dr Shailja Kumar, a Senior Scientist, is working with Elbe Valley Medical for the past four months. She is originally from Delhi, India, and completed her PhD in her native country before undertaking a year long Post Doctorate in Trinity College, Dublin, after which she joined Elbe Valley, Mullingar.
From growing up in Delhi to now working in Mullingar, Dr Shailja has experienced varied and contrasting lifestyles throughout her career.
She lived in one of the fastest growing cities in the world, with a population of around 18 million, and now she brings her skills, talents and knowledge to the Mullingar. It’s another remarkable aspect of this fascinating project.
Dr Kumar is clearly passionate about her work and about the fight against cancer, which will affect one in every four of us.
“I had done a PhD in anti-cancer drug development and therapy. I’ve learned a lot about cancer treatment, but one thing that was always there in my mind is that a lot of research is going on all over the world, and people are coming up with different opinions, but I had always focused on making it uncomplicated. To make it as simple as possible,” she said.
Undertaking a role at Elbe Valley Medical was an obvious move, perhaps.
“When I came to know about this position, I realised that the idea is in line with what I think about cancer research and that is what attracted me. It’s totally based on advanced technology, but the idea, when you look at it broadly, is uncomplicated. From a patient’s point of view, it’s going to be very simple. Ultimately you can come up with any kind of research, but how is it affecting the patient? Mentally, the side effects, all the problems,” she explained.
Simple and effective
“We are developing something that is very simple and very effective for late stage cancer patients.”
It’s a good reflection on the company’s diversity: it doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you can demonstrate that you are one of the best in your field to Robert Reynolds, founder of Elbe Valley Medical.
For Dr Ackland it was a good opportunity to move into medical devices.
“The cancer cure also attracted me on an emotional level. Another thing that impressed me when I met Rob, was that his passion shone through. You could see he was well attuned to the emotional side of people. That plus his vision for Elbe Valley,” she explained.
Both Dr Ackland and Dr Kumar make the daily commute from the Irish capital to the heart of the midlands, and working in Mullingar as opposed to being employed in Dublin has many advantages. The journey is only around an hour by train and the location offers a much nicer place to work, Dr Ackland feels.
“I travel by train and I’m able to work an hour each way by train. It’s about an hour and 15 minutes; obviously the train is much busier travelling from Mullingar to Dublin as opposed to the other way, but it’s still better than travelling around Dublin on a packed Luas or Dart, where you can’t get any work done,” he said.
Dr Ackland cycles to the train each morning, so effectively that’s his commute as he starts work as soon as he gets on the train.
For Dr Kumar, there are many advantages also. She lives in Lucan, Dublin, and commutes by bus to Mullingar, allowing her to begin research work en route and on the journey home. Travelling by bus means only having to cope with less than 10 people in the morning and evening, so overcrowding is not an issue, while her time on the bus is spent working also.
Robert Reynolds, founder of Elbe Valley Medical, says the very best people have been hired to work on this innovative treatment and feels the simplicity of the therapy is what makes the story so compelling.
“All the complexity is hidden; conceptually the idea is extremely simple. With cancer, the first thing you are thinking of is drugs, antibodies and side effects,” he explained.
There were some fantastic candidates, internationally, considered and the best people were hired.
Dr Andrzej Nowek, Chief Technology Officer at Elbe Valley Medical, worked as an Assistant Professor in Poland and as Project Manager before joining Elbe Valley Medical in Mullingar.
There are over 1.8 million people in Warsaw, Poland whereas Mullingar has a fraction of that population.
“Mullingar as a location provides a great opportunity for Elbe Valley Medical’s future expansion. We will always have a need to hire the brightest and smartest people,” Nowek enthused.
Elbe Valley Medical has a number of U.K. contractors working for them also and the plan is for significant development in the years ahead, with Mullingar very much the focal point of activity and the potential home to a new hub which will provide a major boost to the town
News is expected soon on a major investor from the U.S. and all indications are that this great story is really only beginning.