Horizon Discovery (Horizon) and the University of Torino, Department of Oncological Sciences, today announced that they have been awarded a three-year Eurostars grant under the EUREKA and EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.
The grant application entitled “Interrogation of Somatic and Inherited Gene-variations for Human Therapy (INSIGHT)” was ranked first amongst all applications received in the UK and Italy, and third across the entire EU.
Recent advances in high-throughput DNA-sequencing, such as those pioneered by the Sanger Centre, have given medical researchers a detailed view of the array of genetic variations capable of influencing the incidence or severity of human diseases. This is particularly true of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and the many other conditions that increasingly manifest as we age. However, much work is required to definitively link a specific genetic-marker, or combination of markers, with actual disease pre-disposition, onset, or in directing the discovery and prescription of improved ‘targeted’ or ‘personalised’ therapies.
The availability of genetically-defined and predictive in vitro human disease models has been a key missing link in achieving these goals until the development of Horizon’s proprietary AAV-virus mediated method of human genome-engineering (GENESIS™). GENESIS allows for the first time the efficient, precise and stable alteration of any endogenous gene in a human cell-line to create a wide array of disease model types.
The ‘INSIGHT’ program will explore a novel class of inherited and somatic non-coding mutations associated with cancer causation. Once their biological role and mechanisms in cancer have been confirmed or elucidated, these disease models will be made available to the wider research community and profiled (by Horizon) for all known existing cancer drugs that may target these cancer genetic variations, to discover potential new therapeutic options for patients.
Horizon will perform the in vitro gene engineering and drug screening; and Professor Alberto Bardelli will identify other cancer associated SNPs for modeling. Professor Bardelli is a leader in the field of cancer genetics and therapy and his work is actively leading to the adoption of new and more effective ‘Personalised Medicine’ strategies by pharmaceutical companies and healthcare agencies; in particular his landmark research recently linking mutant K-Ras and other genetic mutations to resistance to novel EGFR-targeted therapies in colon cancer.
Dr Chris Torrance, CEO of Horizon Discovery Ltd says “the development of effective personalized cancer medicines and companion diagnostics is becoming a closer reality with advances in high-throughput genetic testing. The bottleneck now is decoding which of the thousands of genetic variations that are truly important in driving the progression of cancer and other diseases; and the development of accurate disease models to speed up the search for many more rational targeted cancer therapies. This is Horizon’s overarching mission and this grant will significantly add to our ability to provide novel information, as well as gold standard disease models to pharmaceutical, diagnostic and academic R&D researchers”.
Professor Alberto Bardelli says “Genomics research over the past 20 years has seen incredible growth in the number of SNPs identified that are believed to increase an individual’s susceptibility to cancer. The statistical evidence provided by populations’ studies has not been paralleled by experimental evidences that the identified SNPs play a functional role at the cellular level. INSIGHT is designed to unequivocally establish the causal relationship between cancer associated SNPs and biological perturbations of key cellular features such as gene transcription, alterations in DNA-protein interactions and drug response”
The grant which begins in March 2010 is spread over a period of three years and will contribute toward a $1,000,000 program of work that will lead to the marketing by Horizon of a panel of new patient relevant X-MAN™ disease models and the co-ownership of new inventions that will be commercialized via Horizon.