Science, industry, government forge new alliance against cancer & auto–immune disease

Science, industry, government forge new alliance against cancer & auto–immune disease

21 Jul 2008

Many of Australia's top scientists, clinicians and immunologists today embarked on a multi-disciplinary collaboration with government and industry targeting faster, more specific and cheaper diagnoses and treatments for cancer and auto-immune diseases.

They have joined forces in a new $30 million Federal Government-funded Cooperative Research Centre for Biomarker Translation (CRC-BT) officially launched at La Trobe University Research and Development Park, Bundoora, Melbourne, this morning (Monday 21 July).

Core partners in the new CRC are La Trobe University (LTU) and the Macfarlane Burnett Institute for Medical Research and Public Health in Melbourne (MBI); the Mater Medical Research Institute (MMRI) and Mater Health Services (MHS) in Brisbane; and the Women & Children's Health Research Institute and Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide. US-based biotechnology corporations, Amgen and Becton Dickinson Biosciences, are the commercial CRC-BT partners.

With $30 million in cash funding from the Federal Government, $6 million from participants, and more than $100 million "in-kind" funding from its partners over seven years, the CRC is tackling the challenges of cancers and immune diseases as a "pipeline" project in five stages across a broad front. It is simultaneously targeting the discovery, development, clinical and diagnostic efficacy and commercialisation of new biotechnologies for diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

Levering off its multi-institutional diversity of expertise – which includes cell surface science, mass spectrometry, monoclonal antibody development, antibody-based diagnostics and clinical immunotherapy - the CRC aims to develop highly specific diagnostic tests and therapies to treat cancer and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and lupus.

Using sophisticated mass spectrometry, knowledge of the human genome, and recombinant DNA techniques, CRC scientists will identify and profile hundreds or perhaps thousands of yet unknown "biomarkers" - and 35 immune cell "biomarkers" already identified in a previous CRC – correlated against specific diseases, and then generate monoclonal antibodies that react with those biomarkers. The antibodies will then be assessed for their potential use in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

("Biomarkers" include cell surface proteins that differentiate one cell from another, making it possible to distinguish healthy cells from disease-causing cells by their "markers.")

The researchers aim to identify at least five "biomarkers" with potential for development as therapeutic applications, and at least eight with potential application as highly refined diagnostic therapies, within its first seven years.

Products with diagnostic or therapeutic potential will be clinically trialled and, if proven, commercialised for marketing in the multi-billion dollar global biopharmaceutical market – with royalties flowing back to the CRC for ongoing and future research and development programmes.

The new CRC consolidates the combined world-renowned research and clinical expertise of the core research partners, and the 'Big Pharma' know-how of United States-based international biotechnology giants Amgen and Becton Dickinson Biosciences. (Amgen, a global biopharmaceutical company, specialises in human-based antibody therapeutics; Becton Dickinson Biosciences is one of the world's leading diagnostics companies and a recognised leader in innovative new products for clinical and diagnostic use.)

Launching the CRC this morning, La Trobe University Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson said:

"The Australian biotechnology industry is still a young industry, but it is developing, and this kind of collaboration will substantially reinforce it.

"In addition to providing a greater understanding of health and disease mechanisms for the Australian medical research industry, the CRC will lead to new jobs and the development of a field of research that will greatly enhance Australia's overall innovation capacity."

Professor Johnson said it would also promote Australia's ongoing credentials as a home base for future R&D manufacture, product development and clinical trials.

"The inclusion of US companies Amgen and BD in the CRC will open up greater access for Australian companies to world-class expertise in diagnostic and drug development, clinical evaluation, and product sales.

"The CRC also reflects this University's long-recognised strengths in molecular sciences and biotechnology research."

The CRC's newly- appointed Chief Executive Officer, Mr Michael Kleinig, said:

"We have brought together some of the world's leading researchers and industrial partners in the development and use of monoclonal antibodies for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The CRC has an independent board of management, and is structured to facilitate its multi-stranded research and development approach."

Professor Heddy Zola, the CRC's Chief Scientific Officer, believes the CRC has potential to create a real difference in the future treatment and diagnosis of disease.

He said targets would include:

  • new 'blockbuster' drugs for better treatment of some of the most intractable diseases including cancers and auto-immune diseases;
  • highly specific biomarkers of high sensitivity to optimise initial diagnosis and ongoing monitoring of disease;
  • biomarkers to predict the severity of disease;
  • biomarkers and diagnostic tests to monitor and optimise the effects of disease-modifying therapies.

The CRC will also run a $500,000 research and practitioner-oriented education program including 40 PhD research scholarships.

Further information

Mr. Michael Kleinig, Chief Executive Officer, TransBio Limited,
Managing Company for the CRC-Biomarker Translation
T: + 61 425 76 1997
F: +61 3 8300 0807
E: michael.kleinig@biomarkercrc.com.au

Media inquiries

Adrienne Jones, La Trobe University Media & Communications
T: + 613 9479 5513
M: +61 0423 846 512
E: adrienne.jones@latrobe.edu.au

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