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University of Toronto professor wins GSK’s 2014 Discovery Fast Track Challenge

December 1, 2014

Professor Tania Watts looks for cancer clues in our immune system

Toronto, ON — University of Toronto (U of T) Professor Tania Watts is a winner of GSK’s 2014 Discovery Fast Track Challenge, which is designed to accelerate the translation of academic research into novel therapies. Watts and her team are investigating how the body’s immune system might contribute to some types of cancer. The winning U of T team will work with scientists in GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) and the Molecular Discovery Research teams to test their hypotheses using GSK’s resources.

“This idea came from studying basic biology of lymphocytes, leading to an idea that we decided to test on cancer cells, using an Innovation Grant from the Canadian Cancer Society,” said Watts. “Based on our initial data we have proposed a new drug target to GSK and we are very excited to work with them to test new compounds on lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemias cells.”

Watts’ team studies how lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell, are kept alive to fight viral infections and how this can also contribute to blood cancers. Their initial research was made possible by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Cancer Society’s Innovation Grants program, which supports unique, creative research ideas that will impact cancer.

“Dr. Watts’ success with her Innovation Grant research is exactly the kind of outcome we aim for with this program,” said Dr. Christine Williams, Vice-President of Research and Policy, Canadian Cancer Society. “The projects may propose high-risk ideas, but have the potential for high reward.”

Watts prepared the winning proposal along with U of T post-doctoral fellow Dr. Ali Abdul Sater and Drs. Mark Minden, John Kuruvilla and Rob Laister of the University Health Network. It was one of 14 winning proposals, chosen from 428 entries from 234 universities and academic institutes from across 26 countries.

“The partnership with GSK to take advantage of their tremendous expertise in drug discovery will greatly accelerate the testing of our hypothesis and the potential to move the therapy forward to the clinic,” said Watts, who is a Professor of Immunology and holds the Sanofi Pasteur Chair in Human Immunology at U of T. “The research between the University of Toronto and GSK will focus on developing a new drug to combat lymphoma and leukemia.”

“We believe there is a real advantage in bringing together the best in academia and industry to help take innovative ideas forward in drug discovery,” said Duncan Holmes, European Head of DPAc. “The Discovery Fast Track Challenge is designed to find the best ideas for collaborative drug discovery from any therapeutic area, in any geography. We look forward to working with each of the winners to help identify novel quality pharmacologically active compounds for their targets and being part of the researcher’s journey in making a difference.”

DPAc was launched in the UK in late 2010 and enables academics to marry their scientific excellence with the drug discovery insight of GSK. For Discovery Fast Track projects that progress to full DPAc programs, GSK and the academic collaborator share the challenges and rewards of innovation; GSK provides drug discovery expertise and in-kind resources as well as funding activities in the partner laboratories to progress a program from idea to candidate medicine. Currently GSK has 10 active DPAc collaborations in 10 disease areas.


For more information, please contact:

Liam Mitchell
Associate Director, Communications
Temerty Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Tel: 416-978-4672