The BioMed X Innovation Center said today it is extending an ongoing cancer research collaboration with Merck KGaA through the launch of a new group that will focus on increasing efficacy and reducing side effects of treatments.

The research group will be led by Balca Mardin, Ph.D., who joined BioMed X from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). Dr. Mardin has specialized in studying cellular mechanisms of complex genomic rearrangements and the impact of DNA damage and repair on genome instability during tumorigenesis.

Through their new project, “DNA Damage in Cancer,” researchers in the new group plan to develop new treatment approaches aimed at exploiting cellular DNA damage and repair mechanisms that occur during radiation and radiochemotherapy, BioMed X said.

“Our group is interested in extending the list of drugs that take advantage of the crosstalk between DNA repair genes and developing educated designs of targeted therapies for individual tumor types,” the group or “Team DDC” states on BioMed X’s website. “We combine cancer genomics, genetic screening approaches, and preclinical studies, in order to dissect synthetic lethality mechanisms of DNA repair in human cells that can also act together with radio- or chemotherapy.”

To that end, the group says, it will perform detailed genetic and molecular characterization of DNA repair proteins based on tumor-specific somatic or germline alterations in cancer and apply CRISPR/Cas9-based genetic screens: “Together, our research aims to understand the sensitivity or resistance of tumors to various treatment regimens, and how inducing defects in DNA repair machinery can be used to selectively target tumors.”

The new research group is the ninth launched by BioMed X over the past 3 years, with Merck KGaA among five pharma sponsors. The other four are AbbVie, Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and Roche.

BioMed X recruits early-career scientists for biopharma-sponsored interdisciplinary teams working on preclinical research projects in biomedicine, molecular biology, cell biology, diagnostics, bioinformatics, neuroscience, and nanomaterials. The scientists work at BioMed X’s open-innovation lab facility on the campus of the University of Heidelberg, under experienced mentors from academia and industry.

Merck KGaA and BioMed X launched their first research collaboration in 2013, focused on new approaches to cancer therapy. Subsequent collaborations between Merck and BioMed X have covered cancer metabolism and the immunosuppressive environment of tumors.

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