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HEALTHCARE | Tony Chua, Singapore

A*STAR scientists join forces with Servier to develop anti-cancer drugs

The partnership aim to develop drugs restricting the growth of tumor-initiating cells in breast cancer.

A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) has inked a Research Collaboration Agreement (RCA) with Servier, the second largest French pharmaceutical company in the world. The collaboration aims to develop anti-cancer drugs to suppress tumor-initiating cells (TICs), often called “cancer stem cells”. By targeting TICs, scientists hope to be able to prevent relapse and metastatic outgrowth in cancer patients.

Under this three-year partnership, SIgN and Servier aim to develop drugs directed at restricting the growth of TICs in breast cancer - the most common cancer in women all over the world, and also in Singapore with about 1,100 new cases diagnosed each year. Scientists at SIgN, with their expertise in tumour immunology and therapeutic antibodies, will be able to isolate TIC-specific human monoclonal antibodies, and with the help of Servier, develop them into anti-cancer drugs, accordinbg to an A*STAR report.

As Associate Professor Jean-Pierre Abastado, Principal Investigator of SIgN that will head the lab for this SIgN-Servier collaboration said, “Scientists and clinicians have been trying to understand why cancer relapse occurs in spite of the removal of the primary tumor. Basic research conducted at SIgN has shown that cancer relapse could potentially be avoided by controlling TICs. Our task at hand is to discover the monoclonal antibodies that will target these TICs.”

Dr. Emmanuel Canet, MD PhD, Head of Research & Development at Servier added, “This partnership exemplifies our vision to collaborate with leading scientists worldwide to discover and develop innovative medicines in the field of cancer where the medical need is still huge. We have been very impressed by the quality of the research work done at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), which we believe is one of the best such institutes in the world.”

“Elimination of tumour initiating cells represents a major challenge in oncology. The aim of this collaboration is to develop an innovative approach to identify membrane neo-antigens specifically expressed by breast cancer stem cells. There is a great therapeutic potential since therapeutic antibodies against these neo-antigens could be used to control the residual disease by eliminating cancer stem cells persisting after conventional therapies", said Dr Stéphane Depil, MD PhD, director of Oncology Research & Development Unit at Servier.”

Prof Paola Castagnoli, Scientific Director of SIgN added “This project is supported by a joint lab between Servier and us and it will be located within SIgN. This is a strategy that we have already successfully developed last year with another company, in the field of Infectious Diseases. Pharma companies are very interested to develop new projects where they can find both an excellent scientific environment, together with unique technology platforms such as our fully human Monoclonal Platform and our Immuno-monitoring platform that can speed up the process of drug discovery.”

Chairman of SIgN, Prof Philippe Kourilsky commented, “I believe that this partnership with Servier will soon lead to the discovery of novel cancer drugs that will effectively control cancer relapse, enhancing the survival of cancer patients. I’m particularly delighted that this work stems from the results of basic research in Tumour Immunology conducted at SIgN. This partnership with Servier was made possible thanks to the powerful human monoclonal antibody platform that we have developed. This is an excellent example of how public research institutes and private companies can leverage on each other’s strength to come up with innovative solutions to address pressing medical needs such as fighting cancer effectively.”

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