Genome Institute's new lab to focus on customised, cutting-edge cancer treatment

SINGAPORE - The Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) has launched a new laboratory that will help provide customised, cutting-edge treatment for cancer patients.

The lab - set up in partnership with local healthcare bioanalytic firm Invitrocue - will develop models of cancerous tumours using cells from patients, and utilise tech tools like artificial intelligence and data mining to trawl through genetic information found in cell models.

It will then identify novel biomarkers - molecules or genes linked to the illness - to measure drug resistance and the responses to treatment.

The lab's efforts will help provide a real-time status update for the treatment a patient is undergoing in a clinic, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and  Invitrocue said in a joint statement today (July 24). GIS comes under A*Star.

The lab - called the GIS-IVQ Joint Laboratory - was launched at the University of Adelaide's Australia-Singapore Relationship Conference, held at Goodwood Park Hotel on Monday.

Dr Steven Fang, executive director and founder of Invitrocue, said: "The new lab will bring our work another step closer to commercialisation for life-saving technologies that essentially take the guesswork out of cancer treatment, and improve the quality of life for the patient."

Dr Fang is also an adjunct professor at the University of Adelaide.

The lab will be housed at the Genome building in Biopolis and will carry out research into head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and triple-negative breast cancer, which makes up 10 per cent of all breast cancers in Singapore.

It will cost about $10 million to operate over the next few years.

GIS said it decided to focus on these types of cancer because they are diseases with no biomarker-guided therapy, and are common in Singapore and South-east Asia.

The lab will be the first in the Asia-Pacific region to focus on the integration of phenotypic data –  observable characteristics of a cancer cell, for instance whether it dies – and genomic data – the different genes expressed by the cancer cells.

It will employ up to 20 personnel in scientific and technical roles, and expects to fill, over the next two years, another 18 new positions that require cell biology and bioengineering expertise.

Invitrocue has also entered into tie-ups with groups such as the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia to scale up its efforts.

GIS executive director Ng Huck Hui said: "We are delighted to partner Invitrocue. This collaboration will help to advance our research in precision medicine and, most importantly, contribute to better patient outcomes through the development of new treatments."