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Public and Private Research Organisations Team Up to Advance Drug Discovery Using Brain Tumour Stem Cells Published on: 17 February 2009

Lilly Singapore Centre for Drug Discovery (LSCDD), the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), one of the institutions of SingHealth, the largest public healthcare group in Singapore and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) of A*STAR, have teamed up to advance drug discovery using adult brain tumour stem cells. LSCDD, a wholly owned subsidiary of the US-based biopharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly and Company has recently expanded its facility at the Biopolis, and has cancer as one of its disease areas of focus.

The research collaboration will leverage earlier findings by Dr. Carol Tang, a NNI research scientist and Dr. Christopher Ang Beng Ti, a neurosurgeon at NNI and clinical investigator with SICS. The duo have shown that primary brain tumours are caused by a minority group of cells that display a genetic profile distinct from that of the tumour bulk. They have reliably established a method of cryopreservation for these tumour-initiating cells (frequently termed "cancer stem cells"), thus facilitating the development of a brain tumour stem cell repository for future research and drug screening efforts. These important discoveries were published late last year in the Journal Stem Cells, which reports new findings in this research area.

"Our scientific goals are to understand if and how we can target adult brain tumour stem cells selectively, and to use bioinformatics to identify novel biomarkers and new drug targets", said Dr. Tang and Dr. Ang. "Ultimately, this could lead to new approaches to treat brain tumours."

The researchers have reason to be optimistic. This collaboration is the first amongst staff from Eli Lilly and Company and lead local research agencies, NNI and A*STAR. With increased opportunities for exchanging ideas and synergising efforts, more effective and less invasive cancer treatment is now one step closer to becoming a reality.

Dr. Jonathon D. Sedgwick, Managing Director and Chief Scientific Officer of LSCDD highlighted that "discovering new, breakthrough medicines through translational and clinical research requires intensive collaborations amongst partners. This research collaboration with clinicians and scientists from NNI and SICS will bring together different expertise and resources. This fits well with Lilly's new collaborative model known as the Fully Integrated Pharmaceutical Network (FIPNet) model, and will enhance and accelerate Lilly's ability to find ‘Answers That Matter'."

Prof. Judith Swain, Executive Director of SICS mentioned that "this collaboration is aligned with our focus on disease-oriented clinical and translational research. The family of clinician scientists here at SICS is well-positioned to perform critical work at the border between basic and clinical research. We look forward to working closely with LSCDD and NNI to develop cutting-edge approaches for novel drug development."

"NNI's research aims to improve treatment and discover cures for neurological disease. This collaboration will enable all parties to benefit from the exchange of multidisciplinary expertise and will expedite the translation of research findings into clinical practice", said Prof. Lee Wei Ling, Executive Director of NNI.