NSW Government backs University-led consortium on drug discovery

Professor Michael Kassiou from the Drug Discovery Initiative will lead a new institute using stem-cell derived organoids to accelerate disease treatment.
Professor Michael Kassiou will lead the NSW Organoid Innovation Centre.

Professor Michael Kassiou will lead the NSW Organoid Innovation Centre.

The University of Sydney will lead the establishment of the NSW Organoid Innovation Centre, a new multi-institution facility that will apply the latest stem-cell techniques to accelerate drug discovery and design.

Funding of $2.5 million for the centre was delivered by the NSW Government through the Emerging Industry Infrastructure Fund. The University of Sydney will invest an additional $1.3 million in the centre, which is a collaboration with the University of NSW and the Children's Medical Research Institute at Westmead.

The academic lead for the centre is Professor Michael Kassiou from the School of Chemistry and the Drug Discovery Initiative at the University of Sydney.

"The NSW Organoid Innovation Centre will turbocharge the biomedical ecosystem in NSW and establish a world-class stem-cell research and drug discovery hub for Australia," he said.

Sometimes referred to as "mini organs in a dish", organoids are self-organising clusters of multiple cell types derived from human stem cells. The cells can be taken from a patient's body to create clinically relevant organic testing sites in the lab.

"We can run our database of existing drug types against the organoid cells in the laboratory. This gives us a much better chance of success in drug discovery, bypassing several steps in traditional drug design," Professor Kassiou said.

Conventional drug discovery often uses animal surrogates for testing. However, animal surrogates are not always reliable models for how drugs work in humans.

Professor Kassiou said: "Organoid technology bridges the gap between initial discovery and testing directly in humans, with potential to rapidly accelerate relevant drugs to treat disease.

"This new approach is all about targeting processes that are clinically relevant to the disease you are interested in," he said.

The University of Sydney is investing in robotic facilities for the centre to develop precision drug-screening platforms that rapidly and automatically handle the stem-cell organoids.

The NSWOIC node at UNSW will be led by Dr Shafagh Waters and the CMRI node at Westmead will be led by Dr Anai Gonzalez Cordero. These two nodes will focus on producing the stem cells and organoids needed by the centre.

Dr Waters said: "At UNSW, we're proud to join forces with the University of Sydney and CMRI. With our advanced techniques for upscale production of clinically relevant, quality-assured adult stem-cell-derived organoids, we're opening new possibilities for targeted therapies and personalised medicine."

Dr Gonzalez Cordero said: "We're grateful to the NSW Government for its vision and foresight. Without this investment we wouldn't be able to develop and test new therapies for patients living with genetic disease who presently have few or no options for a treatment or cure.''

University of Sydney staff working with Professor Kassiou at the new centre include:

Professor Glenda Halliday, Professor Wojciech Chrzanowski and Professor Gemma Figtree, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health; and Professor Greg Neely from the Faculty of Science.

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