2020 – the scientific year in review
2020 has been a challenging as well as rewarding year for CBmed. While the COVID crisis had an impact on working routines and ongoing research projects, 2020 was also a successful year with many scientific highlights – from the implementation of the Next Generation Drug Screening Platform to fruitful partnerships and research on new digital biomarkers.
Area 1, “Data & Technologies”, made major progress with digital biomarkers, together with Roche and other partners. This refers particularly to biomarkers for novel and rare diseases. There has also been progress establishing new machineries in the metabolomics platform, which is now fully equipped with PESI-MS, an important method for metabolomic fingerprinting. Besides, the immunohistochemistry lab has been upgraded with the implementation of machine learning into data analyses – a major step forward for higher throughput. Combining fusion technology with digital biomarkers for a more comprehensive approach in biomarker research should be noted as well as the metabolomics for sample quality control and for profiling in cancer.
The Next Generation Drug Screening Platform was certainly the highlight for Area 2 “Cancer”, since it is a major investment for CBmed as a company and an important step into the future. The Drug Screening Platform will be used to analyse the response of tumour cells to different cancer drugs, while the expected results will benefit both patient care and research. Thus, the drug screening opens a new research field which could be described as Immune-Metabolomics or Cancer Metabolism. In the future, CBmed aims to explore the question how tumour cells respond to energy sources, which seems to be a driving factor for drug resistance. Besides this milestone, other projects are also running well. One example is circulating tumour cells, a promising research field for possible prognostic and therapeutic biomarkers. Within Area 2, CBmed has established methods to analyse a circulating tumour cell and developed new methods to get further inside the expression profiling.
In Area 3 “Cardio-Metabolic Health”, there has been progress in the intensive care unit project together with B Braun. This project aims to develop digital biomarkers for the prediction of kidney failure, using this scientific knowledge for decision support. Major achievements could also be reached in the fields of pro-graft, pulmonary hypertension and microbiome-based drug screening. Besides, there has been progress in the fertility research and the diabetes database. For this database, several data of patients have been collected, which consequently influenced CBmeds COVID research.
Opening of the Next Generation Drug Screening Platform in the Fall of 2020.
Partnerships and Contract Research
In the year of COVID, relationships with customers and business partners had to be developed in a new way. Due to the ongoing travel restrictions, a high-end system for video conferencing has been established which allows a close and secure interaction with partners. At the same time, new strategies needed to be developed with the partners, for instance the projects with Roche and B. Braun mentioned above. For the Drug Screening Platform, contracts have been signed with AvataMed Singapore, AimedBio Korea and Shimadzu Kyoto. Another example is a highly interesting project with Infineon, with whom CBmed shares some common interests in fields like intensive care medicine and beyond. Examples for fruitful collaborations is the contract research about detection of diagnostic and predictive biomarkers and a sensor platform for sensor technology which has been developed by Infineon and is of interest for future projects. Spanning halfway around the globe, the partnership with ONO Pharmaceutical led to a project about a very specific immunohistochemistry and transcriptomics, focussing on biomarkers for specific kidney diseases.
Impact of COVID-19 on research
2020 also was an exceptional year for CBmed regarding the COVID-19 crisis. There has been a direct effect from the first lockdown in spring, which led to the now fully accepted establishment of virtual work procedures, connecting not only different departments, but also different countries and continents. Luckily, there has been no loss or cancellation of the research partners, so CBmed was able to maintain its services in full extend.
Due to the importance of the topic, it was inevitable for CBmed to focus some of the research work also on COVID-19. For instance, the existing technology platforms such as the metabolomics profiling proved to be helpful to identify patients on risk when they come to the hospital. This work was then linked to the diabetes registry project done in Area 3, and it turned out that biomarker research technology is also of benefit when it comes to COVID. Another example is a project with immune phenotyping. COVID is not a viral disease only, but it is an interaction of the virus with the immune system – and the immune response sometimes drives the severity of the disease. CBmed is currently using its immune phenotyping platform and the flow cytometry analysis to understand why some subjects have a severe immune response and others don’t – a project in cooperation with department of Nephrology at MU Graz with some exciting results already. All in all, COVID certainly had an impact on the scientific work, and CBmed has even filed a patent for the classification of COVID patients, details will follow in 2021.
Robert Lobnig and Thomas Pieber recap the year 2020.
A look ahead to 2021
2021 will be an important year for CBmed. Again, the Drug Screening Platform will be of major importance because it needs to be established and validated in order to prove to partners and customers that it is not only a major investment, but foremostly a useful and valuable tool. Besides, CBmed doesn’t lose focus on its main mission to become one of the world leading Biomarker research centres, therefore new goals need to be set. One of them will be linked to transplantation medicine, a high-end field in medicine in regards of technology and complexity where valid biomarkers are still missing. Another important field is the link between environmental medicine and biomarker research. This topic is all about plastics pollution, especially micro plastics, and the impact of micro plastics on human health. For societies and governments, this topic is of major importance, particularly the question which kind of effects micro plastics have on the human organism. CBmed aims to investigate if micro plastics do play a role in a whole series of disease, starting with cancer, but also linking it with autoimmune diseases and other parts. Another focus will be the research on the Microbiome, which will be driven further together with the researchers at the Medical University in Graz.