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Bright lights, big CITI
Singapore researchers launch national initiative in Cancer ImmunoTherapy Imaging with the CITI programme

Global efforts in immuno-oncology have received a major boost, with a SGD22 million Health and Biomedical Sciences (HBMS) Industry Alignment Fund Pre-Positioning (IAF-PP) grant being awarded to the Cancer ImmunoTherapy Imaging (CITI) programme.

Led by local researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), the CITI programme is an integrated, multidisciplinary platform for translational immuno-oncology imaging that addresses the urgent call for biomarker-driven approaches to monitor tumour immune response.

Cancer remains a leading killer worldwide and it is the number one killer in Singapore. In recent years, cancer immunotherapy (CIT) has emerged as a scientific breakthrough that harnesses the patient’s own immune system to fight off cancer. While CIT has the promise to be particularly effective, on average only one in five patients respond to these treatments. Combined with the high cost of the treatments, there is a tremendous need for judicial selection of immunotherapy combinations that maximise patient outcomes, while reducing the economic burden of cancer care.

Non-invasive in vivo imaging can complement CIT selection by visualising cancer immune responses to determine if immunotherapy treatment strategies are safe and effective. Hence, the CITI programme is conceptualised and designed on the fundamental objective of designing unique probes that can bind immune cells and “light” them up as a way to “see” the immune profile in the tumour and whole body.

The CITI programme is designed to target several value inflection points in the translational R&D continuum from CIT discovery to implementation. Hence, strategic biopharma alliances are being sought for collaborative opportunities, including probe co-development, licensing, and clinical trial schemes. Industry partners will also be able to access programme infrastructure and resources to expedite translational and clinical applications for their in-house diagnostic/CIT candidate assets.

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