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A*STAR enters into public-private partnership to develop personalised cancer treatment

ASTAR enters into public private partnership to develop personalised cancer treatment

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR),  Singapore's lead public sector agency for economic oriented research, entered into a partnership with a Singapore-based start-up, Invitrocue, on July 25. Invitrocue is a healthcare bio-analytic solutions provider operating at the forefront of personalised medicine.

Through the public-private partnership, a first-of-its-kind joint laboratory has been established with A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) to develop tumour models for enhancing decision-making for clinicians, enabling them to personalise treatments that will help patients manage the disease and prolong survival.

The laboratory is the first in Asia-Pacific to focus on the integration of phenotypic and genomic data (the genotype refers to the genetic constitution of an individual, while phenotype is the composite of an organism's observable characteristics or traits).

The laboratory will focus on the development and integration of Invitrocue’s Onco-PDOTM platform for four oncology indications, including head and neck cancer; colorectal cancer; liver cancer; and triple-negative breast cancer. These cancers were specially chosen as they are diseases with no biomarker-guided therapy, and are prevalent in Singapore and across Southeast Asia.

Onco-PDO enables Invitrocue to grow patient-derived tumour cells (an organoid) in its laboratories, which serve as a simulation of the cancer cells. Using 3D cell-based scaffolding technology (biocompatible scaffolds are used in bioprinting to generate tissue-like three-dimensional structures by dispensing cells onto them) patient-derived cancer cells can be potentially cultured in laboratories and used for testing against a panel of approved drugs and new drug candidates.

This helps bio-pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers and academic institutions to understand the impact of cancer treatments early, prior to conducting time consuming and expensive clinical trials. Since, the testing is based on cells derived from an individual patient, the treatment is personalised.

Tumour models derived from patients, functional genomics (functional genomics studies aim to understand the complex relationship between genotype and phenotype on a genome-wide scale, rather than a gene-by-gene approach) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) or data mining will be used to identify novel biomarkers (a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses to a therapeutic intervention) of drug resistance and response, and to provide real-time guidance of treatment in a clinical setting.

The joint laboratory will leverage GIS’ expertise in genomics, oncology and organoid biology, and Invitrocue’s capabilities in developing cell-based products and services for commercialisation. The joint laboratory will employ up to 20 personnel in various scientific and technical roles, and targets to add 18 new positions which require cell biology and bioengineering expertise over the next two years. Invitrocue has also partnered with groups in Australia, such as the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, to scale up its efforts.

Dr. Steven Fang, Executive Director and Founder of Invitrocue, and Adjunct Professor of the University of Adelaide, said, “The GIS-IVQ Joint Laboratory is another significant milestone for Invitrocue, and a happy reunion story since the company was spun-off from A*STAR five years ago in 2012. Our innovative approach in using bioanalytics for healthcare has been validated by leading pharmaceutical companies. The new lab will bring our work another step closer to commercialisation for life-saving technologies that essentially takes the guesswork out of cancer treatment and improves the quality of life for the patient.”

“We are delighted to partner Invitrocue; this collaboration will help to advance our research in precision medicine and most importantly, contribute to better patient outcomes through the development of new treatments,” said Prof. Ng Huck Hui, Executive Director of GIS.

Featured photo: Biopolis, Singapore, where the laboratory is located/ Credit: Henry Leong Him WohCC BY-SA 2.0

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