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Enter the zebrafish
MONTREAL—CQDM, a pre-competitive research consortium based in Montreal, and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) have announced the funding of a new collaborative, interprovincial project that could accelerate clinical development of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and diabetes.
CQDM and OCE are supporting the $900,000 project with $150,000 each, while Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Treventis Corp. will provide an additional $600,000 ($150,000 in cash and $450,000 of in-kind contributions). The research project, which began in August, is slated to run three years, until July 31, 2017.
As part of the Quebec-Ontario Life Sciences Corridor initiative, which is designed to support industry- academic collaborations that will result in innovative tools and technologies to improve and accelerate the drug discovery process, CQDM and OCE will jointly support Xiao-Yan Wen from the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Sciences at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Christopher Barden from Treventis and Pierre Drapeau, a professor and researcher at the University of Montreal, to develop a zebrafish screening technology platform aimed at neuroscience applications.
“It’s projects like these that demonstrate what can be achieved when two provinces work together in the greater interest of making significant advances in technology,” said Tom Corr, president and CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence. “This research could lead to breakthrough treatments of these diseases in the very near future.”
According to Diane Gosselin, president and CEO of CQDM, CQDM and OCE are funding this research project in neuroscience specifically for the development of automated zebrafish high-throughput screening technology platforms to accelerate in-vivo screening of small molecules in disease models of protein misfolding and aggregation. “This promising technology has the potential to screen and produce data at least 10 times faster as compared to what it takes to assess potential in-vivo therapeutics manually, which represents important costs and time savings in the drug discovery process,” she said. “It also has the potential to accelerate clinical development of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases.”
According to Gosselin, this collaboration between academia (Wen and Drapeau and their colleagues) and industry (Barden and his colleagues) leverages the academic investigators’ expertise in zebrafish disease models and in the robotic high-throughput zebrafish screening facility at St. Michael’s Hospital to screen Treventis’ library of compounds that inhibit misfolding and aggregation of a wide variety of proteins. These proteins once aggregated are implicated in diverse neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
More specifically, the developed zebrafish high-throughput screening platform “will respond to the currently unmet needs of in-vivo drug screens, particularly in improving predictive powers as compared to in-vitro cell platforms,” Gosselin said. “The validation of the zebrafish preclinical relevance and use of the platform to identify hits (effect of a drug on a specific therapeutic target) will be performed by screening Treventis’ virtual antiaggregation compounds in disease models. This innovative drug discovery platform will aim at identifying lead molecule candidates first as a proof of concept but ultimately for further clinical development in neurodegenerative diseases and other chronic diseases.”
In addition, according to Gosselin, this project has the potential to establish the St. Michael’s Hospital facility to serve as a valuable contract research organization to other pharmaceutical companies to speed up their drug discovery processes. In fact, this disruptive accelerated high throughput zebrafish technology would be able to screen Treventis’ whole library, lower the attrition rate on advanced preclinical essays and produce data on efficacy in under six weeks, compared to the six to 18 months it takes presently to evaluate potential in-vivo therapeutics manually. Given the very high cost of drug discovery, this represents significant cost savings. It is to be noted that CQDM’s pharma members participating to the project (through their global funding to CQDM) will benefit from a non-exclusive license right on the technology developed for R&D purposes only.
While CQDM is a pharma-based consortium active in pre-competitive research whose mission is to fund the development of innovative tools and technologies to accelerate drug discovery, the OCE drives the commercialization of cutting-edge research across key market sectors “to build the economy of tomorrow and secure Ontario’s global competitiveness.”
CQDM and OCE have been collaborating since 2011 in various initiatives to support and foster innovation in life sciences, namely within the Quebec-Ontario Life Sciences Corridor. So far, they have funded five projects together. Last June, they launched the 2014 edition of CQDM’s Explore Program to foster innovative and unconventional game-changing biopharmaceutical research.