Diagnosing disease has been revolutionized by our ability to decipher the genetic changes that lead to cancer; our treatment abilities have not kept up and most patients still receive decades-old treatments that do not target the individual genetic nuances of each individual’s tumour and are highly toxic as well. The development of antibody-based drugs, such as Herceptin for breast cancer and Humira for rheumatoid arthritis, has changed the treatment landscape and had a tremendous impact on patient survival in these areas. But the success of antibodies is limited by our lack of ability to develop and apply efficacious new antibodies to kill target cells, particularly because of the complexity of diseases such as cancer.
Drs. Jason Moffat and Charles Boone of the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, with previous funding from Genome Canada, have invented AbSyn, a disruptive technology that combines expertise in the production of antibodies (Ab) and the deciphering of genetic networks to produce combination or synergistic (Syn) treatments for cancer. In the first phase of this competition, the researchers confirmed AbSyn’s potential to be a robust drug discovery pipeline. Now, in phase 2, their goal is to promote the development of AbSyn into a platform that is attractive to the pharmaceutical industry. With the support of Celgene, a global leader in biopharmaceuticals, they will undertake large-scale screening to further demonstrate AbSyn’s potential. The technology will ultimately be incorporated into Bridge Genomics, a Canadian start-up company, where it will enhance their mission of searching for disease-specific interactions that can be targets for drug development.
AbSyn presents an opportunity for Canada to attract the biotechnology investment needed to create a vibrant biotech sector in Ontario and attract and retain talented, highly trained researchers and have far-reaching economic benefits in terms of intellectual property and revenues. It will also highlight Canada’s growing influence in the field of precision medicine.