Scientists and doctors from Singapore institutes are
collaborating with Samsung Medical Center (SMC), a leading academic medical
centre in Seoul, Republic of Korea, to develop the world’s first clinically
reliable and robust platform that will significantly improve the treatment of
hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or liver cancer through patient-specific
institutes involved in this multi-institutional effort are A*STAR’s
(Agency for Science, Technology and Research) Genome Institute of Singapore
(GIS) and Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), the National Cancer
Centre Singapore (NCCS), and the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The team aims to set up a joint lab with SMC that is based
in Singapore and commence research collaborations with industry for drug
development within two years.
The press release states that liver cancer is the second
most common cause of cancer-related deaths, with approximately 1 million new
HCC cases diagnosed annually worldwide. In Singapore, it is
the fourth most common cancer among men. If untreated, most patients do
not survive beyond six months.
HCC is highly heterogeneous. Therefore, treatment has to be
individualised and targeted to be effective. Current systemic treatment for HCC
is limited and does not take into consideration genomic differences between
different patients. As a result, treatment outcomes generally remain poor.
The new platform will
provide reliable and robust patient-specific diagnostic and predictive data in
a clinically relevant timeframe of three weeks, versus the typical three to
four months. Patient-derived HCC tumour samples will contribute to genomic
integration, in vivo model studies (in vivo refers
to experimentation using a whole, living organism as opposed to a partial or
dead organism) and drug screening data. It will be validated to deliver
“Due to the heterogeneity of liver cancer, there are currently only few drugs
with proven efficacy to target it. This new platform will allow researchers and
pharmaceutical companies to work together to understand the disease better. We
hope this will enable all of us to accelerate the drug development and expand
treatment options for HCC patients,” said Associate Professor William Hwang,
Medical Director of NCCS.
The collaboration leverages the strengths of current
programmes in both countries – mainly the Translational
and Clinical Research (TCR) Flagship Programme for Liver Cancer in Singapore,
and the Refractory
Cancer Research Programme of SMC, called AVATAR platform, in the Republic
The AVATAR platform, based on AVATAR Mouse® and
AVATASCAN® was developed with strong support from the Korean
government’s Ministry of Health and Welfare to provide treatment solutions for
refractory cancer patients.
The TCR Flagship Programme has uncovered useful drug targets
that provide critical data for drug development and precision medicine, will
combine the expertise of other programmes at the Cancer Science Institute of
Singapore (CSI Singapore), GIS and IMCB to re-position the AVATAR platform
developed at SMC for disease areas ranging from brain cancer to HCC.
AVATASCAN® is automated drug screening system of
patient-derived cells for genome based drug treatment suggestion. It is
comprised of a robotic system for rapid screening of drug panel on refractory
cancers (a cancer is said to be refractory when it does not respond to or is
resistant to cancer treatment) including glioblastoma (aggressive cancer that
begins with the brain), metastatic brain cancer and recurrent cancer. AVATASCAN® integrates
gene-drug response and genomic analysis to suggest the most optimal treatment
option for the patients.
AVATAR Mouse® is a patient Derived Xenograft (a
tissue graft or organ transplant from a donor of a different species from the
recipient) model where immunodeficient mice are implanted with patient-derived
tissue specimens that have been removed surgically. It can recapitulate the
genome, histopathology and biology of patient-derived tumor in situ. SMC has a
variety of AVATAR Mouse® for different cancers such as
glioblastoma, gastric cancer, etc.
“While Singapore has achieved much excellence in
upstream and translational research in HCC, this initiative brings together the
strengths of our institutions, combining the efforts of the existing flagship
programme in Liver Cancer with other programmes,” said Professor Pierce Chow,
who is the Lead Principal Investigator of this initiative. Professor Chow is
also Surgical Director of the Comprehensive Liver Cancer Clinic at NCCS, a
Professor and Course Director at the Duke-NUS Medical School, and an Associate
Faculty Member at GIS.
“When three of the top cancer centres in Asia come together with A*STAR to deal
with a cancer that primarily affects Asians, I am confident that we will change
clinical practice, treat liver cancer better, and save many lives,” commented Dr.
Benjamin Seet, Executive Director of A*STAR’s Biomedical Research
“SMC has made continuous investment in the establishment of infrastructure for
precision medicine,” said Professor O Jung Kwon, President of SMC. “Through
this partnership, we are expecting to build a firm global network for precision
medicine and hope to be able to provide the world’s best genome based personalised
treatment for liver cancer patients.”