Chemistry faculty join collaboration for nanomedicine research

July 15, 2019 by Dan Haves

Professors Gilbert Walker and Shana Kelley have joined a new initiative aiming to link academia, industry and non-profits to secure Canada’s position as a global leader in nanomedicine development.

The Nanomedicines Innovation Network (NMIN) is a not-for-profit collaboration with researchers from U of T and UBC. NMIN was awarded over $18m in federal funding through the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program.

Their mandate is to develop new therapeutics to cure disease and create new diagnostics to detect disease more precisely. They have also set out to implement an IP and commercialization strategy for nanomedicine and to train scientists in the technology and business of nanomedicines.

“This initiative aims to provide positive impact in three ways,” says Walker. “The first way is to enhance the potency and reduce the toxicity of cancer therapies. The second is to enable gene therapies using macromolecular genetic drugs. And the third way is to develop new imaging, diagnostic to more rapidly detect, diagnose, and treat disease. Too many diseases are detected too late for effective treatment.“

Walker is an Associate Scientific Director of the network and, with Kelley, co-leads one of the three research themes: biodiagnostics. The other two areas of research are led by teams at UBC.

Members of NMIN from UBC were responsible for the creation of the first-of-its kind targeted RNA-based therapy, Patisiran, which was recently approved by the FDA to treat a rare disease, and NMIN aims to repeat that success.

Walker’s research group is continuing their study of diagnostics for leukemias, to improve multiplexing (the number of markers that can be simultaneously be detected on a single cell.)

“We’re also going to explore associated new methods to deliver drugs,” he says. “We want to be able to specifically deliver drugs to the cells and tissues where the therapeutic is needed.”

Walker’s group is using 100nm diameter delivery packages rather than systemic drug delivery to target the cells.