Media Releases

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