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Almac, Queens University Belfast to Use Xcel Array in $7M Cancer Dx Alliance


By Justin Petrone

Almac Diagnostics and the Queen's University of Belfast will use a £4.4 million ($7 million) grant to develop diagnostic, prognostic, and drug-specific tests for prostate, ovarian, and breast cancers, according to an Almac official.

As part of the alliance, which will initially focus on prostate cancer, Almac will use its Xcel array to screen formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded samples from QUB's archived tumor datasets, Richard Kennedy, Almac's vice president of experimental medicine, told BioArray News this week.

The goal of the project, which will also use tissue microarrays and DNA sequencing, is to better understand the molecular subtypes of cancer.

"The initial focus will be prostate cancer, and will involve the analysis of several hundred tumor biopsies," Kennedy said. "The primary aims are to discover novel predictive or prognostic biomarkers and associated drug targets."

The project will be based at QUB's Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, where Kennedy is a professor of experimental cancer medicine.

According to Kennedy, who also sits on QUB's board and will lead the study, because the research group will be based at the CCRCB, which has "an active cancer patient clinical-trial unit, it is envisaged that any important findings will be quickly moved into patient care."

He said that the researchers will look to develop specific tests to "help clinicians to better understand prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer, and prescribe the appropriate treatments tailored to the specific patient" in order to "improve the chances of cure using chemotherapy and radiotherapy."

It is unclear on what platform those tests would be run, though the possibilities include immunohistochemistry, quantitative PCR, arrays, or enzyme-linked immunosorbant blood or plasma assays.

Austin Tanney, scientific liaison officer at Craigavon, UK-based Almac, told BioArray News that the study team will choose a platform based on what biomarkers are discovered.

"The program is very open from that perspective and any discovered biomarker will be brought forward on the most suitable platform," Tanney said this week.

The main platform used during the discovery phase of the study will be Almac's Xcel array. Launched last year and based on Affymetrix's GeneChip, the array contains 92,000 transcripts and is optimized for use with FFPE tissue samples (BAN 6/8/2010). Unlike Almac's menu of Disease Specific Arrays, the Xcel array was designed to discover biomarkers within multiple disease areas.

"We needed something that could be used across [different] cancers and that could provide comparable data," Kennedy said of the chip, which he said has the "best content of all generic arrays." Xcel is the "logical array to use if there is no DSA available."

Almac's Bioinformatics group will assist in the effort. Kennedy said the bioinformatics team has a "proven track record in developing products suitable for commercialization from the analysis of large datasets."

Debuting in Manchester, UK, in 2009 (BAN 12/8/2009), Almac's Bioinformatics business launched a consulting offering earlier this year (BAN 2/22/2011).

Invest Northern Ireland, the region's economic development agency, will provide £1.5 million to the project, while the McClay Foundation, a charitable trust established by Almac Group founder Sir Allen McClay, will provide £2.9 million.

Almac Diagnostics is a business unit of the Almac Group.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com.