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The power of three
July 2011
by David Hutton  |  Email the author


IRVINE, Calif.—AstraZeneca, Agendia and the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) are joining forces in a collaboration focused on accelerating the development of targeted therapies for colorectal cancer patients.
Financial terms of the collaboration were not released.
The announcement marks a unique collaboration between Agendia, developer of the "MammaPrint" breast cancer molecular diagnostic test, a major research-based pharmaceutical company and a leading national cancer institute to tackle a cancer that results in approximately 500,000 deaths annually in Europe and the United States. Through the collaboration, the three organizations will work to identify differences in colorectal cancer at a molecular level. The program is expected to help physicians deliver more targeted therapies to those with the disease, which occurs in the large intestine or at the end of the colon.
The collaboration aims to lead to the development of personalized medical diagnostics sooner in the production of new drugs than currently possible, says Bernhard Sixt, CEO and co-founder of the molecular diagnostics firm.
Sixt says that in AstraZeneca and NKI, his company has found two partners that have long been committed to developing innovative therapies to fight colorectal cancer.
"Agendia, NKI and AstraZeneca are working together to identify specific molecular subtypes in colorectal cancer," he explains. "Thus, the collaboration has the potential to benefit not only the direct participants, but also the scientific community as a whole on the basis of providing a much greater understanding of the various disease types in the colorectal field." 
Sixt points out that NKI has a proven track record of successful translational research that provides insights into the mechanism and biology of drug response and drug resistance in various cancers. AstraZeneca, he adds, is a global research-based biopharmaceutical company with "an exceptional success rate in discovering, developing and marketing medicines for some of the world's most serious illnesses."
Therefore, the expertise and knowledge of the NKI and AstraZeneca complement Agendia's strength in developing diagnostic tests that can help to identify the right treatment for patients.
Sixt adds that a key feature of this collaboration is that personalized medicine diagnostics may be developed far earlier than previously thought possible.
"Our collaboration marks a continued shift in how we think about companion diagnostics and how they will be developed in the years to come," he says.
Sixt also explains that NKI will perform bioinformatics analysis aimed at delivering new validated targets for drug discovery and accompanying predictive markers.
"In addition, at NKI the most promising targets will be investigated in functional assays. AstraZeneca will provide expertise in the selection of drug targets, develop new drugs based on our results and test these new drugs or existing drugs in predefined subpopulations," he says.
Agendia will provide data and analytic expertise to develop companion diagnostics with the potential to help identify the predefined subgroups.
Sixt points out that a key challenge in cancer drug development is the need to understand patient variations in responsiveness to particular drugs. 
"A new cancer drug may commonly elicit a favorable response in some patients, while other patients show no response," he notes. "In clinical trial populations, the percentage of individual patients that respond to a particular drug is often too small to satisfy the trial's criteria for progression to the next stage of clinical research. As a result, the drug is often deemed a failure, potentially depriving the wider cancer patient population of the benefits the treatment may have and resulting in the loss of the relevant company's research investment in the failed treatment."
Moreover, Sixt notes that when companion diagnostics are developed early in the drug development process, they can provide insight into which patients are likely to benefit from a given new cancer drug. 
"Therefore, they have the potential to contribute both to success at the clinical development stage and to effective treatment decision-making, once a new cancer drug that is paired with a companion diagnostic test has been approved for clinical use," he adds.
Agendia's participation follows its success with the "Symphony" breast cancer genomic profile, which includes MammaPrint.
George Orphanides, head of the colorectal cancer disease group at AstraZeneca, says the company is committed to pursuing new and innovative collaborations to accelerate the delivery of promising therapies to patients.
"We are pleased to have partnered with two organizations that bring complementary and world-leading capabilities to our colorectal cancer programs," he adds. "Researchers have known for some time that there are different subtypes of colorectal cancer."
"Building on our discoveries in breast cancer, we have identified distinct molecular subtypes in colorectal cancer, each responding differently to various therapies," adds René Bernards, professor of molecular carcinogenesis at NKI and cofounder of Agendia. "Along with our new partners, we aim to identify drivers of the oncogenic process in each of these subtypes."
Agendia markets four products, with several new genomic tests under development. In addition, Agendia collaborates with pharmaceutical companies to develop companion diagnostic tests in the area of oncology. Agendia is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and in Irvine, Calif.
Code: E071114



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