From left: Carolyn Cummins, Lee Dupuis, Keith Pardee, Jillian Kohler

Four researchers at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy have received the Faculty’s inaugural “New Initiative and Innovation Awards,” representing a total investment of nearly $200,000. The funded projects will each receive $50,000 over two years to pursue innovative new ideas in pharmaceutical sciences research, including treating and managing symptoms of childhood diseases and corruption and counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical sector.

The funding supports research aligned with the Faculty’s strategic priorities, particularly projects that will be leveraged to attract major research investment and lead to tangible solutions for the challenges they are addressing. “This funding confirms our commitment to research excellence at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy” says Stéphane Angers, Associate Dean, Research.

Tackling childhood disease

Two award recipients are leading small projects that have potential to be translated into larger studies related to childhood disease. Associate professor Carolyn Cummins and co-investigator Peter Roy are identifying drugs for the childhood liver disease Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis type 3, which is caused by a genetic mutation that results in a phospholipid imbalance in the liver. Her team will examine whether a selection of FDA-approved drugs can target another phospholipid transporter in the liver, restore the phospholipid imbalance and treat the disease in a mouse model. “This grant will provide the funding we need to generate the critical in vivo proof of principle data in a disease model,” she says. She adds that if their hypothesis is correct, “we will be in a position to apply for CIHR funding to better understand the molecular mechanisms involved and take next steps to begin a clinical trial.”

Clinician scientist Lee Dupuis is using the new funding to lead a feasibility study examining whether problem-solving skills therapy can help children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia manage nausea and vomiting as side effects of oral chemotherapy. If successful, the therapy could be tested in a larger clinical trial for its potential to improve quality of life for children with cancer.

Addressing challenges in the pharmaceutical sector

The other two award recipients are examining large-scale challenges in the pharmaceutical sector. Assistant professor Keith Pardee is developing a new technology to secure the drug supply chain and combat drug counterfeiting, which is at an all-time high. The new funding will help his team to develop the technology required to demonstrate proof-of-concept work in pharmaceutical applications and the data needed to secure funding for next steps.

Professor Jillian Kohler will examine international institutions and instruments that have worked best to control corruption and why, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector where corruption is rife. Despite the increasing efforts of international institutions to address corruption, it is still unclear how the distinctive hard and soft law features of leading global governance institutions, such as the World Bank, affect their understanding of and approach to anti-corruption instruments.

Kohler says that the funding is particularly important for research like hers that crosses disciplines. “This funding opportunity allows researchers to advance areas that push the boundaries,” she says. “It sends a very strong signal to all of us that our efforts are being supported, particularly in areas that are not easily positioned within traditional funding opportunities.”

The New Initiative and Innovation Awards will be awarded for two more cycles, with the next competition expected in January 2021.

By Eileen Hoftyzer

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