A total of five research projects to advance Qatar’s precision medicine and genomic research infrastructure have been awarded grants by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and Qatar Genome Programme (QGP) - both members of Qatar Foundation( QF)– under the Path towards Precision Medicine (PPM) research programme.
The grant promotes and supports genomics research to promote drug discovery and exploit patient specific genomic variants for use in tailored personal therapies for the unique genetic profiles of Qatari patients. This will support the establishment of infrastructure for the clinical implementation of precision medicine, with the goal of improving the quality of healthcare for people in Qatar.
The fourth cycle of the PPM programme saw 30 research proposals with five being chosen to receive grants of up to $ 700,000 up to four years.
Dr Naima al-Mulla, senior attending physician at QF member Sidra Medicine, is one of the awardees, with a project to improve the treatment of paediatric leukemia in the Middle East.
“Nowadays, in Qatar and other Arab countries, the treatment protocols for paediatric leukaemia are modelled after US and European clinical trials,” said Dr al-Mulla. “Therefore, a novel model of personalised medicine is needed for Qatari patients.
“This project aims to do just that by accomplishing a deep understanding of the genetic background for the main toxicities of, and responses to, drugs used for the treatment of paediatric leukaemia in Qatari children, to provide them with the best possible treatment options.”
Dr Milivoj Belic, professor at QF partner Texas A&M University at Qatar, also received an award for his project that facilitates the early diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders. “Our goal is to develop specialised instrumentation based on lasers, optics, and light detectors, as well as mathematical analysis tools and software enabling early diagnosis of different proteinopathy diseases, like Alzheimer’s, and help improve the local healthcare sector,” he said.
Another grant awardee is Dr Lotfi Chouchane, professor at QF partner Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, whose project explores drug resistance mechanisms in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) patients. “Our study will explore whether the Qatari population carries any specific pathogenic variants which puts it at risk,” said Dr Chouchane.
“The proposed outcomes would lead to improved targeted therapies for Arab TNBC patients, helping establish an Arab-specific patient-derived organoid bank in Qatar – an excellent resource for modelling disease progression in Arab populations.”
Dr Borbala Mifsud, assistant professor, College of Health and Life Sciences at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, a member of QF, is another awardee, whose research project aims to identify clinically actionable variants for therapy response in rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
“We aim to find variants of high association with treatment responses that can be incorporated into clinical testing prior to the start of TNF inhibitor therapy, and aid physicians in finding the most suitable treatment for individual Qatari patients with these autoimmune conditions,” Dr Mifsud said.
Dr Amel Hassan, senior attending physician at Sidra Medicine, will use the award to explore functional genomic studies and diagnose inherited immunodeficiency diseases, to provide patients in Qatar with a definitive molecular diagnosis. Dr Hassan said, “This project involves close collaboration between the clinic and research, to improve understanding of the cellular and molecular etiology of primary immune deficiencies in Qatar and uncover potential targets for novel therapeutic development.”
Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie, executive director, QNRF, said, “To benefit from the world-class genomic infrastructures and wealth of resources of Qatar Biobank, QNRF, and QGP, we have launched four successive PPM calls.
“These have enabled research focused on understanding the disease phenotype/genotype correlations, translating research findings into medical products for better quality healthcare, and promoting a greater appreciation of precision medicine among healthcare providers and the community in Qatar.”
Dr Said Ismail, director, QGP, said, “PPM is our flagship joint funding programme, aimed at leveraging precision medicine research in Qatar and helping move outcomes from bench to bedside.
“PPM supports local researchers and their international partners in tackling national priority research questions, and helps to serve Qatar’s vision of becoming a leader in the implementation of precision medicine.”