API partnership with University of Lethbridge & Dr. Trushar Patel examines impact of Covid-19 virus


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A partnership between Dr. Trushar Patel, Canada Research Chair in RNA and Protein Biophysics, and Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) is aiming to uncover how a key human protein interacts with one of the primary SARS-CoV-2 proteins.

The year-long project, which is also sponsored by Mitacs, first required creating proteins in Dr. Patel’s lab at the University of Lethbridge. The team has developed a cryo-electron microscopy dataset for the human protein that is in the midst of processing, and researchers are currently working on a dataset for the viral protein.

“Our goal is to utilize structural biology methods to determine how they talk to each other,” said Dr. Patel, who explained the communication between these two proteins is essential for the virus to replicate. The second phase of the SARS-CoV-2 project will involve screening drug-like molecules that could help block communication to inhibit viral replication.

The project is closely connected to the overall focus of his research — investigating how viral RNA interacts with host proteins within the human immune system to help themselves replicate and propagate. Dr. Patel’s work will help develop targeted therapies for a range of viral infections like Hepatitis B, and other types of coronaviruses.

API has provided financial and scientific support for the initial project phase since its inception, including assisting with the constructs to make proteins in the lab.

“We are so fortunate to have Dr. Patel as a partner. Between being the Canada Research Chair, teaching at the Universities of Calgary and Lethbridge, and his ongoing research, Dr. Patel is a leading voice in the virology research community. He is helping us train the next generation of innovators in Lethbridge,” said Andrew MacIsaac, CEO at API.

Dr. Patel agrees that it is critical for Alberta to invest in its next generation of researchers.

“This is not the first viral outbreak, and this is also not the last. We have PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, and undergraduate students who are working actively on this project and getting essential training so if something like this were to happen in the future, we have the skills available already to deal with it,” he said. “It’s good for the economy that the people we train will go to different companies or have their own labs in the future, and attract more research funding to Alberta.”

Dr. Patel credits API with providing the inter-provincial support required to take training and research to the next level through collaboration between industry and top ranked programs at institutions like the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, and University of Lethbridge.

“API is a critical partner that allows us to talk to the outside world and make connections that we would not otherwise be aware are possible,” Dr. Patel commented. It then builds on those connections by providing technical expertise and support through investment for clinical and preclinical research, and crucial infrastructure like labs and equipment.

API’s success in bolstering the next generation of researchers and innovators means it is uniquely positioned to help Canada and Alberta become more self-reliant when it comes to accessing life-saving drugs and vaccines.

It is currently working with companies like Providence Therapeutics/Northern RNA and Entos Pharmaceuticals, innovators like Nobel Laureate Dr. Michael Houghton and Dr. Lorne Tyrell, and academic partners like the aforementioned University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, in addition to the Canadian Glycomics Network, and IRICoR out of Quebec to build translational capacity across Canada.

Those national and provincial connections will serve to help establish Alberta as a world-leading hub for life sciences innovation and commercialization. The low cost of doing business, proximity to North American and Asian markets, plus stable access to inputs are also attractive qualities that make Alberta a prime spot for research and drug manufacturing.

“We are passionate about what we do at API because we see every day the success of life sciences research that comes from our post secondary institutions across the province,” said MacIsaac. “We know that Alberta has a unique environment not only for life science companies to thrive here but to turn research into products that save lives.”

About the Partners:

About API

API is a not-for-profit that works in collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences as well as research and post-secondary institutions across Canada in a network that includes global top 15 expertise in applied pharmaceutical sciences and commercial drug development, with the stated goal of building a sustainable and vibrant pharmaceutical sector in Canada and establishing Alberta as a world-leading hub for life sciences innovation and commercialization.

About Dr. Trushar Patel

Dr. Trushar Patel is an assistant professor at the University of Lethbridge, the Canada Research Chair in RNA & Protein Biophysics, and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.