Singapore cancer-fighting drug enters human testing

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A cancer-fighting drug developed in a collaboration between Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research
(A*Star) and Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS) has become the first publicly-funded drug candidate developed in Singapore to advance to Phase I clinical trials.

Based on discovery work conducted by Professor David Virshup from Duke-NUS commencing in 2009, ETC-159, as the drug candidate is currently termed, targets a number of cancers including colorectal, ovarian and pancreatic cancers by inhibiting the proliferation and progression of cancers which utilise Wnt signalling pathways in the body.

The progression to first-in-human trials is a major boost for Singapore’s biomedical sciences sector and targets a disease which accounted for 30 per cent of deaths in Singapore in 2013 and which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says killed more than 8.2 million people globally in 2012.

According to Professor Virshup, because ETC-159 “provides a targeted cancer therapy it could potentially minimise side effects and make cancer treatments more bearable for cancer patients.

“This is a major milestone that was made possible by Singapore’s ongoing investment in basic and translational biomedical research to address unmet medical needs”. If proved safe and effective ETC-159 could shape future cancer therapeutic strategies globally, he added.

According to A*Star’s Biomedical Research Council’s executive director, Dr Benjamin Seet, the breakthrough “marks an inflection point in Singapore’s biomedical sciences initiative.”

Initially up to 58 patients with advanced solid tumors will take part in the Phase I trials conducted by the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and the National University Hospital (NUH), Singapore, with trial sites in the United States expected to be opened as the trial progresses.

A*Star corporate communications did not immediately respond to to inquiries on how long the initial Phase I clinical trials are expected to take. If the results are encouraging ETC-159 will then proceed to much more intensive testing involving larger groups of people.

As can be seen from the video below, the path from Phase I trials through to licencing is a long, slow and complex one. A*Star did not respond to questions on the earliest that cancer patients might expect ETC-159 to be commercially available.

The three phases of clinical trials that ETC-159 will need to pass through prior to be eligible for use as a cancer treatment



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