Lab Canada

Collaborations to accelerate drug discovery for personalized medicine

Montreal, QC – Pharma-based consortium CQDM and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), through its institutes of Cancer Research, Genetics and Infection and Immunity, have awarded $1.5 million in funding for two translational projects in personalized medicine, to accelerate drug discovery and drug development. One project will be led by Dr. Henry Krause from the University of Toronto and the other one by Dr. Jeff Wrana from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital. The two projects will also receive additional in-kind contributions worth $530,000 from the participating SMEs involved – $250,000 from InDanio Bioscience for Dr. Krause’s project, and $155,000 from Encycle Therapeutics and $125,000 from Mount Sinai Hospital Research Services for Dr. Wrana’s project.

While working at developing cutting-edge technologies in personalized medicine in order to bring solutions to the most pressing needs in biopharmaceutical research and healthcare, these research collaborations between academia and SMEs will also benefit from CQDM’s mentorship program which brings industrial support and expertise to the projects and helps better align the research with the needs of the pharmaceutical industry. This also builds on funding of over $234 million made by CIHR and its partners since 2012 in the context of the CIHR Personalized Medicine Signature Initiative.

“These fruitful public-private research collaborations will bring forward innovative technologies, which will in turn accelerate the development of new, safer and more effective drugs for the benefit of patients. This joint program reflects the strengths of its partners: the academic research supported by CIHR and the translational industrial research supported by CQDM,” said Mario Chevrette, vice president, scientific affairs at CQDM. 

Project descriptions:

Zebrafish HTS platforms for nuclear receptor related drug discovery and pathway elucidation: Henry Krause, University of Toronto, Vincent Giguère, McGill University and Jens Tiefenbach, InDanio Bioscience. Drug discovery is a long and expensive process, and many potential drugs discovered by traditional screening using cells in petri dishes fail in late development or after approval due to unforeseen side effects. Dr. Krause’s team has developed a novel drug screening platform that can visualize potential drug activity three-dimensionally in live animal tissues, and can then isolate the active drugs or metabolites from the responding tissues. This transgenic zebrafish platform specifically targets a family of human proteins called nuclear receptors implicated in responding to various hormones. Nuclear receptors, one of the most highly responsive families of proteins for drug targeting, control processes such as metabolism, growth and behaviour, and diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The team’s objective is to develop a zebrafish platform spanning the whole panel of the 48 human nuclear receptors as well as 6 epigenetic-regulating cofactors.  Embryos from these fish can be collected by the thousands and screened rapidly against an equal number of drug candidates, an important feature enabling the screening of the large libraries of compounds that pharmaceutical companies have developed. The active compounds cause the fish to glow green, which further facilitates identifying hits. In addition to further testing these compounds for drug potential, Dr. Krause’s team will also use them to identify their target genes and disease pathways.

qTAP, a novel platform for personalized medicine in cancer: Jeff Wrana and Anne-Claude Gingras, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital; Andrei Yudin, University de Toronto; Alexandre Zlotta, Mount Sinai Hospital; Andrew Roughton, Encycle Therapeutics; and Azar Azad from Mount Sinai Hospital Research Services. In the past decade, cancer genomics studies have led to the remarkable revelation that cancer is a much broader and complex disease than initially thought. In parallel, dramatic advances in our ability to design drugs against cancer have created an extensive toolbox of therapeutics. The use of these “targeted” drugs in clinics has met with remarkable successes, but also disappointing failures. Since not all patient tumours are identical, some patients may respond to specific drugs, while others may not. The key, therefore, to enhancing efficacy of anti-cancer drugs is personalized medicine, matching the right patient to the right therapy or again, to pick the right tool to treat each individual patient’s disease. This project proposes to develop qTAP, a transformative diagnostic platform that will provide a global view of an individual patient’s tumour with the goal of identifying the types of drugs which might be most effective at treating their cancer. In addition, and as importantly, this project aims at developing novel classes of drugs that target understudied cancer-causing genes. By using qTAP, Dr. Wrana’s team wishes to enable clinicians to design customized treatments involving optimal drug combinations that will provide patients with a more effective cancer therapy to prevent relapse commonly observed in clinics.