CCAB-sponsored Mitacs Elevate Fellow, Wei Zhang, wins Outstanding Innovation Award
True to the mission of CCAB, Dr. Wei Zhang’s research aims to develop novel medicines that will have a real impact on healthcare, in Canada and globally. On November 14th, Dr. Zhang was recognized for his work at the 6th Annual Mitacs Awards with an award for Outstanding Innovation – Postdoctoral Fellow, during a reception at the National Gallery in Ottawa.
Over the last 4 years, Dr. Zhang’s work in the laboratories of Drs. Jason Moffat and Sachdev Sidhu, at the Donnelly Centre of the University of Toronto, has focused on the development of novel potent and specific inhibitors of proteins in the ubiquitin proteasome system (Zhang & Sidhu, 2014). By using phage-displayed libraries of ubiquitin variants, he has been able to generate ubiquitin-like molecules that have been used for structural studies and as intracellular tools for the exploration of cell biology, and for target validation (see Zhang et al, 2016 abstract).
During his Mitacs Elevate Fellowship, awarded in 2015, Dr. Zhang successfully engineered ubiquitin variants to combat disease-causing viruses.
“Ubiquitin-dependent signalling is important in the immune response, and a lot of viruses encode proteins that bind human ubiquitin, which allows them to topple the body’s defense mechanism. One of them is MERS, a respiratory virus similar to the SARS virus that caused a global epidemic in 2002. 14 years later, nothing has come out of clinical trials. While vaccines are being developed for many viruses, there is no treatment in sight for people who are infected,” says Zhang.
MERS emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and it kills almost 40% of those who become infected, making it even more dangerous than SARS. Zhang has engineered a ubiquitin variant that blocks MERS’ ability to evade the immune response. “When we treat MERS-infected cells with the ubiquitin variant, we can kill the virus in two days,” says Zhang.
Dr. Zhang was presented with his Mitacs award by the Honourable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, & Citizenship.
The event was also attended by Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, who had praise for the Mitacs program and all the evening’s winners. “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to congratulate all of today’s awards recipients. Your tremendous accomplishments in research and innovation will contribute to our collective efforts to create an inclusive, healthy and prosperous middle class. I am genuinely grateful for all of your hard work and I look forward to the many remarkable successes you will achieve in the future.”
As the industry partner for Dr. Zhang’s fellowship, CCAB is proud that his cutting edge research is being recognized and is happy to support his work. CCAB will also play an important role in ensuring intellectual property protection of Dr. Zhang’s findings, as well as in facilitating the next steps of the project towards clinical development and commercialization, in partnership with the recently launched, Toronto-based biotech company Ubiquitech.