28th July 2021

Cancer Models Forum

Interview with inventor of a novel fly-based high throughput drug screening platform and advisor to Vivan Therapeutics

by Henrietta Bull

Interviewee profile

Professor Ross Cagan is a drosophila geneticist, with a research focus in cancer. He received his PhD at Princeton University and has been a Professor at Washington University School of Medicine and at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and he is currently Regius Professor of Precision Medicine at the University of Glasgow. Professor Cagan worked closely with Vivan Therapeutics as an advisor to develop their drosophila personalised avatar platform, a proprietary technology for complex modelling of cancer patients using fruit flies.

Who are Vivan Therapeutics?

With their proprietary technology developed at and licensed exclusively from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, Vivan Therapeutics has the ability to create a biological twin of any patient by replicating polygenic tumour complexity across an army of 500,000 fruit fly avatars. This includes engineering up to 20 mutations in systems, which can be used to test thousands of drugs and combinations of drugs via a high-throughput screening approach.

Vivan Therapeutics recently conducted an internal KRAS study that involved the construction of human KRAS variants in flies (KRAS G12C, G12V, G12D). Results of the study showed that these variants responded as expected to Trametinib, Sotorasib and Adagrasib. These (and other KRAS containing avatars) are now available to biopharma through partnership for competitive profiling, drug discovery and development.

Interview with Professor Cagan

Q1. How were you involved in the development of the Vivan Therapeutics drosophila platform?

A: My laboratory studies the biology of therapeutics, in particular investigating why certain therapies, especially cancer therapies, do or do not work in the clinic and what can be learned from this data. Based on that, we developed a platform for personalised drosophila (fly) avatars, in which we model patients using the fruit fly drosophila.

Q2. What are the advantages of modelling cancer patients using drosophila?

A: Modelling these patients with drosophila gives us many advantages; we are able to capture a large number (a dozen or more) of genetic changes in the tumour, which makes the fly platform a unique whole animal platform. In addition, using robotics, we can use hundreds or thousands of these simple animals (the fly avatars) to screen thousands of different drug combinations. This level of drug combination screening in a whole animal system is really unparalleled to my knowledge, and so the drosophila avatar represents a new generation of therapeutics discovery & development, in which our effort at modelling patients is more personalised.

Q3. What are the key benefits of using Vivan’s drosophila personalised avatar platform?

A: This is really one of a number of new technologies that are coming through as researchers really work to improve the ability to predict patient outcomes using cancer platforms. The drosophila personalised avatar platform has particular advantages in terms of the speed, the cost, the number of genes it captures and the number of molecules/drugs it can screen for. It represents a truly novel approach to cancer therapeutics; it is one of a new generation of personalised therapeutics aimed at accurately treating patients.

Q4. How is Vivan’s drosophila personalised avatar platform evolving and what new features can we expect?

A: Vivan Therapeutics have spent quite an effort to continue to drive this technology forward, including further automation and the addition of computational approaches. I think the opportunities for continually improving this platform and making it increasingly predictive of patient outcomes is exciting.

Want to learn more about Vivan Therapeutics? Check out our other blog posts, which go into more detail:

CRO Spotlight: Vivan TherapeuticsNew personalised therapeutics partner joins Repositive Cancer Model network

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