Made-in-Singapore drug for blood cancer to be tested

Clinical trials began last December and will test up to 34 healthy volunteers.
Clinical trials began last December and will test up to 34 healthy volunteers.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Singapore developers of anti-blood cancer drug ETC-206 hope to start trials this August on patients who are in the late stages of the cancer.

The drug, which is orally-administered, will be tested on patients with hematological malignancies - blood cancer patients - in groups of three.

Clinical trials began last December and will test up to 34 healthy volunteers.

The drug was primarily developed by experimental therapeutics centre (ETC) and the Drug Discovery & Development Unit (D3), both of which are under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), and the DUKE-NUS Medical School.

ETC-206 is the country's second publicly-funded cancer drug candidate after ETC-159, and will be meant for those suffering from later-stage cancer. ETC-159, which is still undergoing clinical trials, is a drug candidate that targets a range of cancers including colorectal, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

Depending on the how tests with ETC-206 progresses, the number of patients trialled may increase. Associate professor Ong Sin Tiong from Duke-NUS Medical School said that the drug is a form of targeted therapy, and different from conventional chemotherapy.

He said standard chemotherapy kills cells in a less specific fashion, and so affects more than just the cancer cells.

ETC-206 inhibits the MNK enzyme in cancer cells, which the drug developers identified as a key player in promoting cancer growth when it is activated.

Prof Ong said ETC-206 aims to inhibit the MNK enzyme to the level at which cancer cells are killed, leaving normal cells still intact.

But it could be years before we see the drug in the market.

The drug is still in the first phase of the clinical trials, which will test for safety and tolerability. Phase two will test its efficacy while only phase three will see randomised clinical trials.

Singapore's concerted push into the biomedical field started almost 20 years ago. When asked about the lengthy trials, Professor Alex Matter, chief executive of ETC and D3said:

"Drug development even in large pharma multinational corporations is a rigorous, extensive, and long drawn out process that can take more than 10 years on average."