Hamilton-based McMaster start-up secures $105M (USD) to commercialize potential cancer treatment

From left to right, John Valliant, Fusion’s Chief Executive Officer, with Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, at the announcement of $105 million USD in funding for Fusion Pharmaceuticals. Photo by Georgia Kirkos.

Fusion Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company founded at McMaster University and based at the McMaster Innovation Park (MIP), has secured $105M (USD) in private financing to help advance a new approach to cancer therapy based on its ground-breaking research.

This new round of funding, which follows earlier investments of $46M (USD), comes from an international syndicate of leading investors. The funds will help advance the work of the company, including growing its operations in Hamilton.

The company was spun off from the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC), which is located at McMaster. Fusion’s Chief Executive Officer is John Valliant, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at McMaster.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last two years and this financing reflects strong support for our work, our people and product pipeline,” Valliant says. “With this investment, we will be able to broaden our team and clinical program and accelerate our strategies to develop new therapies.”

Fusion’s lead product is designed to seek out and infiltrate cancer cells and deliver a lethal and highly localized dose of radiation. Its aim is to target and damage the very DNA of the cancer cells so they cannot grow back. It is designed to attack drug-resistant tumours that do not respond to traditional therapies, which may include lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancers.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment by our colleagues at Fusion,” says Rob Baker, McMaster vice-president, research. “First and foremost, their work has the potential to improve the health and well-being of many cancer patients. It’s also a true indicator that the plan to grow Hamilton’s life sciences sector by commercializing McMaster’s research is achieving real results.”

The Series B financing is being led by lead investors Varian and OrbiMed and includes US, Canadian, Irish and Swedish investors.

“The world is learning that Hamilton is a great place to grow a life sciences business,” says Ty Shattuck, CEO of the McMaster Innovation Park. “Fusion Pharmaceuticals is a homegrown global success story and it paves the way for even more growth and opportunity in this sector for Hamilton and our business community.”

It’s been a year of great accomplishment for Fusion. In 2018, it was recognized as Ontario’s Life Sciences Company of the Year. The award recognizes an Ontario-based company that demonstrates strong leadership and is achieving significant milestones in life sciences research and development and is working to commercialize innovative products.

For full story see here: https://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/articles/hamilton-based-mcmaster-start-up-secures-105m-usd-to-commercialize-potential-cancer-treatment/

Gillian Goward and Her Group are Building a Better Battery

Building a better battery

Gillian Goward (centre) with graduate students in her lab. (Photo by JD Howell)

Theoretically, batteries are simple. First developed in the late eighteenth century, batteries use chemical reactions to create a flow of electrons between two terminals that, when hooked up to a circuit, can be used to power everything from flashlights to cars.
You can make a battery from a lemon, a galvanized nail and a piece of stripped copper wire. Touch your tongue to both the nail and the wire, and you’ll feel the gentle tingle of a weak electrical current.

It’s not (quite) rocket science.

“On paper, batteries ought to work,” explains Gillian Goward, chair of McMaster’s department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “On paper, we should have had electric vehicles 20 years ago.”

Except we don’t – because batteries, especially the rechargeable lithium ones in vehicles and cellphones and computers, aren’t actually that simple, at least when you want them to do more than make your tongue tingle.

That’s because you can have a battery that charges fast but is too heavy to be usable. Or you can have a battery that’s lightweight, but prone to overheating. You can have a battery that’s really energy-dense but made of toxic materials. You can have a battery that lasts a hundred years – but only if you keep it at 20 degrees Celsius.

And so on. As the old saying goes, out of fast, cheap and good, you can only pick two.

Goward is trying to address these challenges in her Magnetic Resonance and Materials for Energy Storage lab, where she and her students use a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance to study how lithium and other types of batteries and fuel cells work at a fundamental level.

Similar to a hospital MRI, NMR allows Goward and her team to see how lithium nuclei change as a function of battery cycling, age, temperature or choice of materials. While an imaging device like an electron microscope would give Goward a static picture, NMR allows her to see how things change and move in real time, on the battery itself.

It’s a capability that only half a dozen in the labs in the world have, and Goward’s lab is right out on the leading edge.

She and her team regularly collaborate with researchers in other disciplines, including mechanical and materials engineers, as well as industry partners. “All the real innovation is happening at the boundaries,” she says. “Going outside of where core expertise lies is where the real discoveries are happening.”

That’s an interesting place to be for a researcher who, when she started at McMaster as an undergraduate in 1991, figured she was going to be a medical doctor – until a chemistry professor in her fourth year got her interested in solid-state chemistry. That led to starting grad school in 1995 at the University of Waterloo with Linda Nazar. Nazar’s lab had just started working on lithium batteries, which Sony had patented four years before, and a side project in NMR turned into Goward’s PhD project.

Following a postdoc fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, Goward made her way back to McMaster in 2002 – the only woman on faculty in her department at that point.

Goward is hesitant, though, to emphasize gender too much when it comes to her work.

“I don’t find my gender changes how I do my science – I make decisions based on the science that’s in front of me, and I assume my peers are doing the same,” she says. “More and more, though, as I take on leadership roles, I’m finding that people are still wanting to talk about this, and it’s obviously a problem.”

Goward, who maintains a 50-50 ratio of male and female students in her research group, suggests there are a couple of key points where it’s possible to address the challenges of attracting more women to science.

“You can start at a really early stage, with kids who are in their early teens – convincing 13-year-olds like my daughter not to let someone call them a geek just because they did well on a math test,” she says. “At the other end of the pipeline it’s really about what they choose to do after their PhD. There’s a pretty equal gender balance in our department at the PhD level, but the applicant pool for our current hire there were only 25 per cent women. We’re working on ways to create a structure that allows for a better balance.”

For Goward, the best part of her work is showing students that chemistry is an ever-evolving field of discovery. She’s not teaching undergrads right now, but says her research group is an ideal place for her grad students to stretch their interests.

“Working with students is all about passing on your curiosity and making sure they understand that chemistry isn’t a completed science,” she says. “There are so many open questions when you look at things from the lens of molecular-level and dynamic processes. The kinds of experiments we’re doing are certainly unique, and it’s rewarding to tell students that we’re contributing something that no one else can.”

JANUARY 11, 2019

2019 Summer USRA Competition

NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards for 2019 in Chemistry and Chemical Biology

All interested and highly qualified undergraduate students are encouraged to apply to the McMaster Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology for an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA).  

Students receiving NSERC USRAs work full time for 16 weeks during the summer in one of the department’s research laboratories. USRAs provide students with invaluable research experience and unique learning opportunities in Chemistry and Chemical Biology.  Students from McMaster or other universities are eligible, with preference given to students in Level II or Level III Honours Chemistry or Honours Chemical Biology programs. 

Students must discuss their application and research projects with a potential supervisor before submission to the Department. Part one of the NSERC USRA Form 202 is completed on-line by the student, while part two is completed by the successful applicant’s research supervisor when requested. For more information please contact Linda Spruce in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology Office, ABB 156, by phone at ext. 23490, or by email at sprucel@mcmaster.ca.  

Students with NSERC USRA awards will receive the following total stipends over 16 weeks (35 hrs/wk):
     $7840 – students completing level II
   $8100 – students completing level III
     $8500 – students completing level IV

Information about the NSERC USRA program and appropriate forms are available on the NSERC website: http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Students-Etudiants/UG-PC/USRA-BRPC_eng.asp

Your application should include:
·         a copy of the completed Form 202 Part I
·         an up to date copy of your transcript (an official transcript is not necessary at this stage)
·         this USRA application form, signed by the potential supervisor.

Please send your application to Linda Spruce in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Office (ABB 156) no later than 4:30 p.m. on Friday, February 15, 2019.

C&CB is looking for a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in Molecular Medicine

Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in Molecular Medicine

Complete applications must be made online at www.workingatmcmaster.ca/careers (Faculty Positions, Job ID 21592)

The Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology (CCB) at McMaster University invites applications to fill a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor in the area of molecular medicine, effective July 1, 2019.  Scientists whose research interests focus on the molecular basis of disease and therapy are encouraged to apply. The successful application will be expected to mount a research program targeted toward the fundamental understanding of disease and/or the development of modern therapeutic methods.   The research program should create a presence in any one of a number of critically important areas, such as the chemistry of mental health disorders, addiction, aging, and the fundamental chemistry behind gene editing, amongst others. The role of chemistry and chemical biology in understanding and treating health-related disorders is a clear area of growing importance, and CCB will provide a vibrant environment to foster a new research program in this area, with opportunities for both internal and external collaborations.  

Our aim is to recruit a candidate who will establish an internationally competitive research program and forge numerous research interactions and collaborations with colleagues in the Faculty of Health Sciences.  Integration between Faculty of Science & Faculty of Health Sciences will be a key objective of this new position. The successful candidate will take advantage of numerous opportunities to attract research funding for personnel and infrastructure, including grant programs from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and disease-specific associations/foundations.   

The research program of the selected candidate will be located in a newly-renovated laboratory space, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.  This space will include state-of-the-art open-concept laboratories designed for chemical biology/synthetic chemistry/biochemical engineering.  The candidate will benefit from the surrounding suites of shared infrastructure (Confocal microscopes, Raman spectrometers, BSL-2 labs, etc.).  In addition to having access to the equipment and facilities in this new space, the successful candidate will also have access to instrumentation in the CCB Core Facilities (Magnetic Resonance, Mass Spectrometry, and X-ray Diffraction), the Canadian Center for Electron Microscopy, the Biointerfaces Institute, and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC).   

Applicants should clearly demonstrate potential to develop a prominent, externally funded research program and a commitment to excellence in teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels.   Candidates must have a doctoral degree in chemistry, chemical biology or a closely related field, relevant postdoctoral experience, and a promising record of research scholarship and productivity.  A complete application package must include a cover letter, a detailed curriculum vitae, a one-page statement of teaching philosophy anddetailed descriptions of at least three research projects that exemplify the proposed research program, as well as a one-page statement on equity and diversity.  Optionally, applicants may also include a one-to-two page summary highlighting their top three publications and specifying the signficance and novelty of these contributions, as well as a list of the major instrumentation and equipment necessary to pursue each project.  Academic reference letters are not required at the time of application, but applicants must provide the names of three referees who may be subsequently contacted.

McMaster University is a globally renowned institution of higher learning and a research community committed to advancing human and societal health and well-being. Our focus on collaboratively exchanging ideas and approaches makes us uniquely positioned to pioneer groundbreaking solutions to real-world problems leading to a Brighter World.  The Faculty of Science works to create global impact by advancing scientific discovery and knowledge, and promoting greater understanding. Our innovative, interdisciplinary approach generates new methods and insights, results, and lasting change.

McMaster University has a strong commitment to achieving diversity among faculty and staff that reflects the diversity of our student body. The successful candidate will be committed to inclusion and excellence and the Department is especially interested in candidates who can contribute, through their teaching and/or service, to the diversity of the academic community. Women, persons with disabilities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit persons, members of racialized communities and LGBTQ-identified persons are strongly encouraged to apply. Gender diversity is being addressed at McMaster University through our policies and actions. One recent action in this area was the completion of a gender pay equity study and a resultant base salary adjustment applied to all female faculty members in July 2015.

Faculty members at McMaster University enjoy numerous personal and professional benefits. University employees are offered an excellent benefits package that includes, but is not limited to, extended health care benefits, dental care, group life, long term disability, worldwide travel assistance, and a retirement plan. Progressive policies are in place to assist faculty women and men who become parents or are needed to care for family members. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.

Complete applications must be made online at www.workingatmcmaster.ca/careers (Faculty Positions, Job ID 21592) to the attention of:

Dr. Gillian Goward, Professor & Chair
Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
McMaster University
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8S 4K1

Review of complete applications will begin October 1st 2018, and continue until the position is filled. The effective date of appointment is expected to be on or before July 1st, 2019. All applicants will receive an on-line confirmation of receipt of their application; however, only short-listed applicants will be contacted for interviews.

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be given priority.  To comply with the Government of Canada’s reporting requirements, the University is obliged to gather information about applicants’ status as either Permanent Residents of Canada or Canadian citizens. Applicants need not identify their country of origin or current citizenship; however, all applications must include one of the following statements:

Yes, I am a citizen or permanent resident of Canada
No, I am not a citizen or permanent resident of Canada.


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