UBC biochemist Pieter Cullis wins Gairdner Award for position in COVID-19 vaccines

TORONTO – When he established his lab on the College of British Columbia within the Eighties, Pieter Cullis says he by no means may have fathomed that his “curiosity-based” analysis would ultimately play a important position within the improvement of vaccines which have benefited lots of of hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the globe.

The Vancouver biochemistry professor was named among the many winners of the distinguished Canada Gairdner Awards for his contributions to the event of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Cullis stated the accolade serves as a reminder that scientific inquiry begins with a query, and even “fundamental” analysis can result in world-changing breakthroughs.

“We simply discover it form of unbelievable,” Cullis stated in an interview forward of Tuesday’s Gairdner Awards announcement. “You’re working away, you’re doing what you do, after which who may prophesize that we’d have this type of an impression.”

Cullis and his colleagues at College of Pennsylvania, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, have been acknowledged with the Gairdner Worldwide Award for creating the foundational know-how behind mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, similar to these manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Karikó and Weissman are credited with discovering easy methods to engineer messenger RNA to show our cells to make a protein that trains the physique’s immune system to determine and struggle the COVID-19 virus.

The query turned easy methods to get the mRNA into our cells with out degradation. It was an issue that Cullis, co-founder of Vancouver-based biotech firm Acuitas Therapeutics, had been wanting into for the reason that early days of his analysis on the chemical composition of cell membranes.

His lab laid the groundwork for the vaccine’s drug-delivery system, which makes use of tiny fats bubbles — generally known as lipid nanoparticles — to guard and transport mRNA into our cells.

“It’s been fairly exceptional to immediately transfer from a state of affairs the place we’re coping with what was a comparatively unknown therapeutic strategy, to have one thing that’s now going into billions of arms worldwide,” Cullis stated.

Cullis stated that COVID-19 vaccines symbolize the “tip of the iceberg” of the know-how’s potential functions. He sees lipid nanoparticles as a promising new instrument that might usher in a wave of “individualized therapies” that don’t solely deal with the signs of a illness, however goal the underlying causes.

Of their quotation, the Gairdner jury stated the discoveries that undergird mRNA COVID-19 vaccines “have the potential to revolutionize the long run supply of efficient and protected vaccines, therapeutics and gene therapies.”

Cullis stated the Gairdner recognition underscores the significance of supporting scientific innovation in Canada, noting that lots of our brightest minds transfer to the U.S. in pursuit {of professional} alternatives.

“That is one thing we simply have to handle, that we discover methods of making industries so we preserve our individuals in Canada,” he stated. “They don’t go south as a result of they wish to go away Canada. They go south as a result of that’s the place the roles are.”

Canadians took 4 of this yr’s seven Gairdner Awards, which acknowledge a number of the world’s most important scientific discoveries impacting human well being.

The opposite Gairdner Worldwide Award laureates have been John Dick, a senior scientist at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Most cancers Centre, for his discovery of leukemic stem cells in an acute myeloid leukemia affected person, and Harvard College’s Stuart Orkin for his breakthrough discoveries on purple blood cells which have led to new therapies for problems similar to sickle cell illness.

Zulfiqar Bhutta, a senior scientist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Youngsters, took the Gairdner World Well being Award for creating evidence-based methods to help little one and maternal well being in marginalized populations.

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, given to a Canadian researcher who has demonstrated excellent management in medical science, went to McMaster College’s Deborah Cook dinner for her multi-disciplinary analysis on important care drugs.

The Gairdner Awards, which embrace $100,000 for every recipient, are nicknamed the “child Nobels” as a result of 96 Gairdner winners have gone on to obtain Nobel Prizes, in response to organizers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed April 5, 2022.

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