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First made-in-Singapore cancer drug enters clinical testing

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A made-in-Singapore cancer drug has advanced into clinical trials, charting a milestone in Singapore’s biomedical sciences initiative that will go towards improving the lives of cancer patients in Singapore, and worldwide. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS) have announced the start of a phase I clinical trial of novel cancer drug candidate, ETC-159.

This is the first publicly-funded drug candidate discovered and developed in Singapore to advance into first-in-human trials, and will target a range of cancers. Overall, cancer is the leading cause of death in Singapore, accounting for 30% of deaths in 2013. Cancer also has resulted in 8.2 million deaths world-wide.   

ETC-159 targets a number of cancers including colorectal, ovarian and pancreatic cancers which contribute to a significant proportion of Singapore’s cancer burden. These cancers are linked to a group of cell signalling pathways known as Wnt signalling, that have been identified to promote cancer growth and spread when elevated or dysregulated. As ETC-159 is an inhibitor of these pathways, it could suppress cancer proliferation and prevent cancer progression.

This drug candidate therefore offers a promising novel and targeted cancer therapy that could shape future cancer therapeutic strategies. 

ETC-159 was discovered and developed through a collaboration between A*STAR’s Experimental Therapeutics Center (ETC), Drug Discovery and Development (D3) unit and Duke-NUS since 2009. This was based on the discovery work of Prof David Virshup from Duke-NUS, who has continued to contribute to the development of the drug candidate.

The phase I clinical trial will evaluate the safety and tolerability of ETC-159 in advanced solid tumours of up to 58 patients. The first patient was dosed on June 18.

Dr. Benjamin Seet, executive director of A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council, said, “This breakthrough, which closely follows local company MerLion Pharmaceuticals’ recent success in obtaining FDA approval for one of its drugs, marks an inflection point in Singapore’s biomedical sciences initiative. Despite the protracted process of drug discovery and development, I am confident that we will see more locally developed drugs in the pipeline being tested and implemented.”

A*STAR’s ETC and Duke-NUS are the primary drivers of the discovery and development of the drug candidate. D3 joined the collaboration in 2013 to bring the project forward to achieve proof-of-concept in humans.

D3 has obtained ethics and regulatory approval for this trial from the SingHealth Centralized Institutional Review Board (CIRB) and the Singapore Health Sciences Authority (HSA) respectively. The first two sites for the trial are the National Cancer Center Singapore (NCCS) and the National University Hospital (NUH), Singapore. Trial sites in the U.S. will be opened as the trial progresses.

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