New Solution: Comprehensive ex vivo platforms for experimental cancer medicine and drug development

15 June 2016

There are two key areas in tumour biology that must be considered when developing models to study the disease – tumour heterogeneity and the tumour microenvironment (TME). Current cancer models including cell lines, organoids or, more recently, in vivo patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models often fail to recapitulate these elements sufficiently, and so numerous new treatments that have been developed based on these models do not perform well when moved forward into the clinic.

Now, researchers from the Barts Cancer Centre, Queen Mary University of London, have developed ex vivo human cancer models, as Experimental Cancer Medicine Platforms (ECMPs) which overcome the limitations of existing approaches and which incorporate human cancer stem cells (CSCs) and the human TME. The basic ECMPs have already been validated for ex vivo drug response screening with particular emphasis on the elimination of the contained CSCs (ScanCSCTM). The platform utilises an inherent feature of CSCs (autofluorescence), which is label-free and can be constantly tracked in real-time, making it ideal for drug response screens. The platform has been developed for CSC-centred drug response profiling to select the most effective treatment for individual patients (precision medicine), and to identify compounds that hold potential as CSC-targeting agents.

Now, the technology developers are seeking academic and/or pharmaceutical and biotechnology company partners to:

  • Expand and validate the platform across various cancer types for preclinical drug development and precision medicine.
  • Provide a larger panel of candidate drugs that could be tested and shortlisted using their ECMPs.

These ECMPs represent an innovative method for testing compounds without the use of animals in preclinical studies that can be easily expanded to compounds with a different mechanism of action. Once validated, the system can be applied for: a) comprehensively studying CSC biology ex vivo; b) small- to large-scale drug screening efforts, and c) real-time evaluation of novel CSC-targeting therapeutics as a prelude to developing new treatment strategies and stratification for clinical trials. As such, the adoption of these platforms will significantly reduce the number of mice used by at least 50%. Within the Barts Cancer Institute alone, half of the mouse work relates to early drug testing efforts. Thus, we will potentially reduce the annual usage of experimental animals from 16,000 to 8,000.

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