Cancer immunotherapy research among beLAB1407’s first projects

Dr Ashish Dhir of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine at the Institute of Genetics and Cancer

AN Edinburgh researcher working to develop new therapies for difficult-to-treat cancers is among the first recipients of funding from the $20 million beLAB1407, recently launched to advance life sciences innovation.

Dr Ashish Dhir of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine at the Institute of Genetics and Cancer is researching a new immunotherapeutic strategy against cancers such as glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, and the “triple negative” form of breast cancer, which commonly has worse outcomes than other forms of breast cancer.

As one of two awards made by beLAB1407, Dr Dhir’s research team has received funding to progress inhibitors of PNPase towards drug development. PNPase is an enzyme that Dr Dhir has shown to play a role in how the body’s immune system fights cancer.

Dr Ashish Dhir said: “I’m truly honoured to receive this funding from beLAB1407 that will drive our fundamental research towards drug development, an important leap towards the clinic. As an early career researcher, this is a fantastic endorsement of the research vision and exciting science in my lab.”

BeLAB1407 was established in May 2021 by German drug development company Evotec and US pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb to advance drug discovery opportunities at the Universities of Edinburgh, Birmingham, Dundee and Nottingham.

Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service, helped bring together the commercial and academic partners to establish beLAB1407, and has since worked with the beLAB1407 team and Edinburgh academics to establish suitable projects to benefit from the lab’s support. 

Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations said: “The drug discovery capability at the University of Edinburgh is truly world class. We are thrilled that this has been recognised and supported as one of the first BeLAB1407 funded projects. This award is an important step towards taking the University’s research from bench to bedside.”

BeLAB1407 has the option to own majority rights in any product emerging from the research, with the University taking a minority share.

BeLAB1407 has announced it will also fund a project at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences. This project aims to develop novel small molecule inhibitors targeting an epigenetic reader associated with the survival of cancer cells.

BeLAB1407, whose name references the distance in kilometres from Land’s End to John O’Groats, is the latest of Evotec’s Biomedical Research, Innovation & Development Generation Efficiency (BRIDGE) projects which the company has established across Europe and North America.

Dr Mark Slack, Vice-President of Academic Partnerships at Evotec, said: “I am very pleased to initiate our first project at Edinburgh with Dr Dhir. This is truly exciting science and I am looking forward to working together, within beLAB1407, to move this towards the clinic.”

The latest stories