Tools measure impact of cancer drugs

By Helen Twose

The next breakthrough in cancer treatment drugs could be helped by Timaru biotechnology company Symansis.

Symansis makes biochemical tools to assist cancer drug researchers assess what effect new drug compounds are having on cells.

Human cells are made up of molecules forming pathways like electrical circuits, says Symansis chief executive Peter Foster.

Cancer forms when pathways are switched on when they should not be, causing cells to keep growing into tumours. A lot of cancer treatment drugs are aimed at switching off such pathways.

About 30 per cent of drug discovery focuses on inhibitors of these kind of molecules in cells. Symansis supplies the methods for measuring what the drugs are doing in cells.

"They might be switching off the right thing but also they might be switching off other things you don't want them to do, so we're predicting what side effects there might be also."

Symansis allows customers to choose an almost bespoke test kit to select which molecules they measure.

"Nobody else does that. Other people have the same idea but ours is the simplest and cheapest on the market at the moment."

Foster says estimates for the market put it at around US$200 million ($260 million) a year.

The idea came from discussions Symansis chief scientific officer Peter Shepherd had with colleagues while working in the United Kingdom.

They were on the hunt for tools that could speed up cancer research but were not easily available orcheap.

Moving back to New Zealand in 2004, he continued to develop the idea until Symansis was formed in 2008 after a round of capital raising.

Foster says his ambitions for Symansis are to be a worldwide business based in New Zealand.

The winning company or companies in the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge will be announced at an awards ceremony tonight.

- NZ Herald

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