As a leading public research agency in Singapore, A*STAR’s mission is to foster world-class scientific research and talent that will transform the country into a vibrant, knowledge-based economy. It aims to achieve this by strategically investing in human, intellectual and industrial capital to support research and development across engineering and the biomedical and physical sciences. In its latest venture, A*STAR has established ‘D3’, a cooperative effort named after the platform’s mission of drug discovery and development. D3 has been launched as a national resource and is jointly funded by A*STAR and Singapore’s National Medical Research Council (NMRC) and National Research Foundation (NRF). The platform’s team of experts will focus on taking projects through the development process from preclinical development candidates to ‘proof-of-concept’ (PoC) studies in humans, with the overall goal of developing treatment modalities for Singaporean patients, generating major economic benefit through licenses and potentially creating new intellectual property.
Alex Matter, the CEO and driving force behind the development of D3, has a clear vision for the platform. “Our mission is to perform translational R&D for biomedical discoveries made in Singapore and elsewhere. If we want to take this seriously we need to build a seamless value chain from biomedical discovery — or even a mere concept — to a clinical application,” he says. “We have crystallized this to say that we want to go from a validated drug target to proof-of-concept in humans, the point at which we have obtained evidence that early clinical endpoints can be attained with the novel medical entity, at tolerated doses, via the proposed mechanism of action.”
In recent times, large pharmaceutical companies and venture capital investors within the drug discovery sector have become more cautious and are typically less willing to invest in early-stage projects. Furthermore, commercial partners prefer to engage in projects where major or risky hurdles have already been overcome. D3 was founded to be a cost-effective and professional development partner able to advance and add value to early-stage projects on a ‘shared-risk, shared-reward’ basis. Fortunately, D3 already has solid human and financial resources in place to take new chemical entities (NCEs) and biologics that have reached the preclinical-development candidate stage through to early development and early clinical trials in humans. Such trials can be initiated via authorization from regulatory authorities, including Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration, and are driven by D3 to a PoC stage. Following PoC, D3 licenses the compounds to pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies for further global development and launch.
By working closely with other A*STAR institutes, D3 is building a bridge between basic science and clinical translation. For example, the Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), a sister organization of D3 which shares a similar focus, is a rich source of projects for the platform. D3 also collaborates with other research groups in Singapore, such as the Singapore Clinical Research Institute (SCRI), the Investigational Medicine Units of the Singapore Health Services, the Changi General Hospital and the National University Health System, as well as industry partners.
“D3 looks for projects that are innovative and offer real benefits over existing therapies or address an unmet medical need,” says Louise Sarup, head of the platform’s business development and licensing activities. “Our primary focus is on drugs targeted at oncology indications and infectious diseases. However, the group isn’t limited to these areas and will consider projects in other areas if they are innovative, exciting and D3 can develop them efficiently and effectively using locally available expertise.”
A fortuitous start
In the first half of 2013, D3 will spearhead a project to advance an H1N1 influenza virus-like particle vaccine from preclinical through to clinical development. Jointly developed with the ETC, the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), the Duke–NUS Graduate Medical School (Duke–NUS), the DSO National Laboratories and biopharmaceutical company Cytos Biotechnology AG, the project is a successful example of the collaboration between D3 and the ETC. The transition of an oncology small molecule project from the ETC to D3 has also commenced with D3 embarking on early preclinical-development activities. This project, developed to date by the ETC and Duke–NUS, is another example of multiple groups in Singapore working together across the drug development pathway.
“In addition to the development of the influenza vaccine and the oncology small molecule project, our immediate intentions for D3 are to increase the number of projects in our portfolio,” says Sarup. “To do this we are looking at all of the institutes in Singapore, as well as reaching out to our industry contacts and attending scientific and ‘biopartnering’ conferences and meetings.”
The novel products created by D3 are likely to serve both global and regional markets, contributing to overall improvements in human health in addition to boosting industry and the economy in Singapore. By complementing Singapore’s vision to become a global hub for drug discovery and development, the activities of the D3 platform have the potential to generate both high-value jobs for skilled individuals and intellectual property rights from drug or vaccine candidates — pointing to a promising future as D3’s projects take off.
About the D3 platform
The A*STAR D3 platform was established to build strong bridges between basic science and clinical research and development by bringing early-stage scientific discoveries to ‘proof-of-concept’ clinical trials in humans and generating economic benefit through the licensing of clinical stage therapeutics.