New ACT drug discovery platform

img_1574Today, Australian National University (ANU), the ACT Minister for Health and Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) will launch a new robotic system to fast-track the development of new drugs to fight cancer and other diseases.

Projects using this platform will also help to screen existing drugs and novel compounds to identify if they are effective alone or in combinational therapies on cancer cells.

This initiative was made possible in part by an ACRF grant of $2 million, awarded in 2015, to provide the equipment required to screen native Australian plants for anti-cancer properties.

Professor Ian Brown, CEO of Australian Cancer Research Foundation says “ACRF is a private foundation supported by community members who are interested in advancing cancer research. It’s inspiring to see researchers at ANU push cancer research forward with this funding and turn it into tangible treatments that future patients will benefit from.”

The High-Throughput Robotic Target and Drug Discovery Screening Platform at the ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics is the first technology of its kind in the ACT.

The specialised robotics and precision instruments will enable researchers to test thousands of possible drug compounds against hundreds of disease cells, to find the best possible treatment for patients.

ACT Centenary Chair of Cancer Research Professor Ross Hannan said the new technology would increase research collaboration and lead to more rapid drug discoveries in the fight against cancer and many other diseases.

“This is an exciting time for research collaboration across the ACT. The multi-million dollar equipment will cut screening times from years to months,” Professor Hannan, Head of the Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics at ANU said.

Until now, researchers in the ACT needed to travel to Sydney or Melbourne to use similar machines. They would also need to stay for months while the testing was done.

Professor Hannan said the technology could give new hope to patients with diseases that have failed all standard therapies and who have no other options.

“We now have the potential to repurpose drugs, testing against more than 4,000 drugs in the FDA drug library have been approved for use in humans to treat disease,” he said.

Professor Hannan said that in the case of cancer, researchers will be able to take bone marrow and tumour cells, grow them in culture, and screen every known compound currently approved for use in humans against the cell lines to see if one could be used to treat the patient.

“In one to two weeks we could identify existing drugs, repurpose them for new treatments, and rapidly set up trials,” he said.
The Target and Drug Discovery Platform has been set up at JCSMR with the generous support of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and ACT Health.