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ICR forms collaboration with AI drug discovery company to develop new possible treatments in rare childhood cancer DIPG

human paediatric brain tumour cells 945x532

Image: Human paediatric brain tumour cells. Image credit: Valeria Molinari, Louise Howell, Maria Vinci, Katy Taylor and Chris Jones via the Wellcome Collection. Licence: CC BY NC.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, are working with Healx, a biotech company specialising in artificial intelligence (AI) to discover new possible ways of treating diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), an essentially untreatable brain cancer in children.

Professor Chris Jones from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) – a world-leading figure in the study of DIPG – and his team are collaborating with Healx, which specialises in discovering and developing new treatments for rare diseases.

By combining AI and machine learning techniques with insight from its pharmacology and drug discovery researchers, Healx has been able to make predictions about which existing drugs, already used in other diseases, could be repurposed to treat DIPG.

The ICR collaborates with industrial, academic and hospital partners over a range of projects – from drug discovery programmes and biomarker studies, to the development of high intensity focussed ultrasound for the treatment of cancer.

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Identifying potential new treatment

Healx has previously used this approach to identify potential new treatments for rare cancers in partnership with childhood cancer charity aPODD.

Professor Jones is now planning to research these drugs in the laboratory to work out if they could be used as treatments.

The ICR is an internationally leading research centre in the study of childhood cancers, including in DIPG.

Professor Jones and colleagues at the ICR have led previous studies that have led to new understanding of DIPG, including the discovery of a possible genetic weakness in some cases that could be targeted by drugs.

This research has led to collaborations with partners including the Structural Genomics Consortium at the University of Oxford and open science company M4K (Medicines for Kids) Pharma to discover, develop or repurpose drugs to target DIPG.

The ICR is a world-leading academic centre in working with industry. Our interactions with commercial partners are overseen by the Enterprise Unit, our technology and transfer hub.

'Determined to find new ways of treating this disease'

Professor Chris Jones, Professor of Paediatric Brain Tumour Biology at the ICR, said:

“We’re very pleased to be partnering with Healx in the development of potential new treatments for DIPG, a rare childhood cancer with an average life expectancy of just nine months. We welcome Healx to a community of researchers, partners, donors and families who are determined to find new ways of treating this devastating disease.”

Dr Neil Thompson, Chief Scientific Officer at Healx, said:

“I am excited to be collaborating with the ICR, one of the world’s leading cancer research organisations. The expertise that Professor Chris Jones and his team bring to childhood brain cancers, and DIPG in particular, is invaluable to an organisation looking to help patients with this rare disease.

“We hope that by combining this with our ground-breaking AI technology, pharmacology expertise and comprehensive rare disease knowledge graph, we can accelerate the discovery and development of new treatments for this devastating disease.”


Chris Jones brain cancer childhood cancer Enterprise Unit artificial intelligence DIPG informatics
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