News & Events

TRAC summer students gets BioCanRX Summer Studentship Award - May 2018

Jonah Sheinin will be working at TRAC this summer with support from a BioCanRx Summer Studentship Award. He will contribute to a CIHR-funded project that aims to generate synthetic antibodies against Receptor Tyrosine Kinase (RTK) oncoproteins, which could have high value as candidate therapeutics given that RTKs stimulate cell growth and proliferation. Several RTKs have been shown to be mutated in cancer. In fact, one of the most widely used therapeutic antibodies, Herceptin, targets an RTK (HER2). Jonah will work on improving the affinity and specificity of RTK antibodies produced at TRAC, and to generate antibodies to novel epitopes of RTKs. In doing so Jonah will build on skills he had gained working at TRAC previous summers, and he will be exposed to the TRAC phage display antibody pipeline and to protein engineering, molecular biology and cell biology. See Jonah's profile on the BioCanRx website.

Welcome back to the team Jonah!

TRAC teams up with SciGenom and KSIDC to create new Bio-Park in India to develop advanced therapeutics - February 2018

The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), in partnership with SciGenom (India/USA) and TRAC, has announced the creation of a Bio-Park in Trivandrum, India, to develop advanced biologics for the treatment of human diseases such as cancer, inflammation and infectious diseases. The new biologics company will leverage SciGenom's expertise in genomics and the TRAC antibody portfolio in order to address unmet medical needs in India, such as therapeutics for head and neck cancer. "Leveraging genomics with superior antibodies will help in enabling personalized medicine in India", said Sam Santosh, chairman of SciGenom (source: The New Indian Express).

The announcement was made at an international symposium on the development of advanced biologics for the treatment of human diseases that took place in Trivandrum on February 2-3, 2018. TRAC Director Dr. Sidhu attended the symposium, which received extensive news coverage in India. Read an article from the Hindu Business Line here.

Advancing cancer immunotherapy by targeting macrophages - February 2018

A TRAC study sponsored in part by a catalyst grant from the BioCanRX Centre of Excellence, aiming to develop novel cancer immunotherapeutics, was featured in the February 2018 BioCanRX Newsletter.

The research project, led by TRAC Research Associate Dr. Jeffrey Hao, builds on the successes of immunotherapeutic antibodies that block immune cell checkpoint inhibitors, such as anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 antibodies, to boost the patients’ own immune system and enable it to fight cancer.
Here, instead of targeting T cell antigens, the antibodies target a surface protein expressed on macrophages, SIRPalpha, that controls macrophage activation. Cancer cells almost universally express the transmembrane protein CD47, which functions as a “DO NOT EAT” signal by binding to SIRPalpha, blocking macrophage activation and allowing tumor cells to evade phagocytosis. Using TRAC's cutting-edge synthetic antibody technology, the team has developed a panel of antibodies that interfere with the SIRPalpha-CD47 interaction. After initial studies in cultured cell models, the antibodies were tested in humanized mice that recapitulate the human immune system. Results so far are promising, with the antibodies showing good anti-tumor efficacy. Lead antibodies are currently being optimized as pre-clinical candidate drugs.

Read the full feature article here.

Pionyr Immunotherapeutics announces successful series B funding - December 2017

Pionyr Immunotherapeutics, a San Francisco-based biotech company focused on the development of immunotherapeutic antibodies, announced a successful $62 million series B financing round to advance antibody-based therapeutics targeting the tumor microenvironment.

Co-founded in 2015 by TRAC Director Dr. Sachdev Sidhu and UCSF Professor Dr. Max Krummel, Pionyr has been developing anti-cancer therapies that target the tumor microenvironment to enhance the body’s anti-tumor immunity. The company licensed technology based on TRAC's antibody generation platform to design novel therapeutics.

This new round of financing highlights investor confidence in the company's progress and will enable two of Pionyr's antibodies to move forward into human cancer trials. Read the full press release here.

TRAC co-hosts the 2017 NGBT conference - October 2017

The TRAC, together with its commercialization partner, the Centre for the Commercialization of Antibodies and Biologics (CCAB), was proud to co-host the NextGen Genomics, Biology, Bioinformatics and Technologies (NGBT) Conference held October 2-4, 2017 in Bhubaneswar, India.

The conference featured a number of TRAC scientists and collaborators as guest speakers. Dr. Sachdev Sidhu, Director of TRAC, and Dr. Stephane Angers, both from the University of Toronto, gave keynote presentations highlighting some recent advances at TRAC in the development of novel antibodies for cancer therapeutics. Other TRAC collaborators, including Dr. Vish Nene from the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, and Dr. Jonathan Gershoni from Tel Aviv University in Israel, also presented their work.

The conference is organized annually by the SciGenom Research Foundation (SGRF), a not-for-profit organization working to promote science research and education in Asia and India. The annual event is designed to provide a forum for scientists and students to share their work, build new connections and explore opportunities for collaborations.

Information on next year’s conference is to be announced in early 2018.

TRAC partners with MedGenome (India) for novel cancer immunotherapy solutions - July 2017

The TRAC entered a partnership to license MedGenome's patented cancer immunotherapy solution OncoPept to develop biomarkers for their drug candidates against immune modulators to treat cancer. The licensing will form the basis of a larger partnership between the two organizations that can be leveraged to bring novel antibody drugs to the Indian market.

The announcement was made at a one day Symposium held July 20, 2017 at the Hilton Mumbai, attended by scientists from over 25 Pharmaceutical companies including Sun Pharma, Biocon and Glenmark.

The Symposium was inaugurated by Jordan Reeves, the Canadian Consul General in India. A delegation from Canada took the opportunity to showcase the work done at the TRAC and the Donnelly Centre of the University of Toronto, and to promote collaborations between India and Canada.

Read the full story published in the Business Standard and the Economic Times' Healthworld.

The Hindustan Times later picked up the story and interviewed TRAC's Dr. Sidhu and MedGenome's Sam Santosh to find out more about the collaboration.

In October 2017, MedGenome announced that it had successfully gone through another round of funding, which will further support the development of OncoPept for cancer immunotherapy.

TRAC summer students get awards from federal agencies - May 2017

Two TRAC interns will be supported by competitive summer studentship awards in 2017.

Daniela Ferrari has obtained an Undergraduate Summer Studentship Award from CIHR's Institute of Genetics for her project entitled "Sequence signatures in synthetic antibody biophysics", in which she aims to better understand how a synthetic antibody's protein sequence influences its affinity and specificity, using biochemical and bioinformatics methods. The results will be used to optimize promising anti-cancer antibodies that have been produced at the TRAC.

Chelsea Chow has obtained a BioCanRx Summer Studentship Award for her project entitled "Graft Enabled Therapeutic Antibodies (GrEaT Antibodies)", in which she will use protein engineering to generate novel synthetic antibody libraries that integrate toxin-based polypeptides to facilitate targeting of membrane proteins such as ion channels, transporters and metalloproteases. The goal is to obtain specific reagents to inhibit membrane proteins essential for the growth or survival of cancer cells, that can be developed as therapeutics.

Congratulations trainees!

TRAC part of Core platform funded by TFRI's Program Project Grant to design novel brain cancer therapies - April 2017

TRAC Director Dr. Sidhu, together with Dr. Jason Moffat (University of Toronto) and Dr. Sheila Singh (McMaster University) were recently awarded a prestigious Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) New Frontiers Program Project Grant to develop antibody-based therapies for brain cancer (glioblastoma, or GBM).

The Program includes several Core platforms, one of which is the TRAC that will generate antibody candidates to be tested in GBM models. The project will also benefit from the IgG production capabilities of the Centre for the Commercialization of Antibodies and Biologics (CCAB).

The Core platform was recently featured in a blog post by TFRI. Read it here.

Pionyr Immunotherapeutics, co-founded by Dr. Sidhu, closes financing with focus on developing antibody-based immuno-oncology therapeutics - January 2017

Pionyr Immunotherapeutics Inc. (formerly Precision Immune Inc.), a company co-founded in 2015 by Dr. Sidhu and UCSF Professor Max Krummel to harness the body’s antitumor immunity by fine-tuning the tumor microenvironment, announced the closing of an $8 million Series A-1 investment round.
Pionyr’s Myeloid TuningTM technology is based on the discovery that altering the tumor microenvironment to favor immune-activating cells over immune-suppressing cells enhances the body’s ability to combat cancer, particularly in combination with checkpoint inhibitors.

“Our technology represents the third generation of immuno-oncology, after checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T therapies,” said Dr. Krummel. “We believe our approach will usher in a new wave of therapeutics with novel mechanisms of action against new targets in the tumor microenvironment, with the potential to improve treatment for many types of cancer.”

“Max and Dev have developed a powerful platform for fine-tuning the tumor microenvironment to enhance the immune system’s response against cancer,” said Steven James, Pionyr’s executive chairman and interim CEO. “We are building on these capabilities to develop antibody-based therapeutics with novel antigen targets and mechanisms of action. We expect to choose development candidates and drive them to IND in the near future.”

Read the full press release here.

Dr. Sidhu and the TRAC team are Canadian Cancer Society 'Giving Tuesday' Great Canadian Innovation Grant nominees! - November 2016

Researchers at TRAC are looking to help patients suffering from anemia as a result of chemotherapy. Anemia occurs when there aren't enough red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to tissues. This condition severely impacts a patient’s quality of life. Anemia can be treated with a hormone, but it is often withheld from cancer patients since it may also promote tumour growth. At TRAC, we are looking to develop an artificial molecule that increases red blood cell production while avoiding this undesirable side effect.

Help the Canadian Cancer Society fund this project. Donors between November 22 and November 29, 2016 will get a chance to vote for the TRAC team to become the winners of the Great Canadian Innovation Grant.

Update from December 6, 2016: The TRAC team did not win this competition; however Dr. Sidhu and the group are proud to have been nominated along with the other great projects. Congratulations to Dr. Lange and his team at UBC and thank you to CCSRI for the support. Read the CCSRI press release about the competition results here.

TRAC trainees immensely successful with MITACS training program - September 2016

Mitacs is a non-profit organization that delivers research and training programs aiming to boost innovation in Canada. By fostering partnerships between academia and industry, Mitacs enables trainees to gain additional skills in areas not traditionally covered by typical academic courses.
With industrial support from the Centre for the Commericalization of Antibodies and Biologics (CCAB), several TRAC trainees supervised by TRAC director Dr. Jason Moffat have benefited from Mitacs programs in the last couple of years. Postdoctoral fellows Drs. Carly Griffin, Wei Zhang, Maryna Gorelik and Valencio Salema all received Mitacs Elevate fellowships. Postdoctoral fellow Dr. Bradley Yates received a Mitacs Accelerate fellowship. These fellowships support innovative research in the field of synthetic affinity protein development and validation.
Moreover, Mitacs is sponsoring a group of TRAC trainees - graduate students Allison Nixon and Megha Chandrashekhar and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Jaspal Singh - as part of an Accelerate cluster project that focuses on developing novel candidate therapeutics for the treatment of glioblastoma. The project is a collaboration between the TRAC (Dr. Moffat) and McMaster University's Dr. Sheila Singh.
The various projects sponsored by Mitacs and conducted at TRAC/CCAB all have the ultimate goal of generating novel biologics to treat and prevent deadly diseases such as viral infections and brain cancer, and to accelerate the delivery of tangible therapeutic solutions for Canadian patients.

BioCanRx supports TRAC summer students - July-August 2016

Over the 2016 summer, two TRAC interns were supported by BioCanRx for projects to develop synthetic antibody therapeutics. Rachel Blair and Emily Ford both obtained competitive scholarships for their summer projects and were featured in the recent BioCanRx newsletter. Read about their exciting projects here.

CFI funding helps TRAC become fully automated - August 2016

In July 2015, the TRAC, in partnership with the Centre for Pharmaceutical Oncology at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, received a major infrastructure grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The proposal for “Engineered Biologics – Targeted Diagnostics and Therapeutics” brought in over $8.2M in new equipment to the University of Toronto, and one year later, the TRAC lab is starting to reap the benefits of this investment!
One of our new automated equipment systems, an Oribitor RS microplate mover equipped with a plate washer, reagent dispenser, and plate reader, is allowing TRAC to fully automate its ELISA assays. As these assays are critical for evaluating the binding specificity of our antibodies, the ability to simultaneously run twenty-four 384-well plate ELISAs is a huge asset to our pipeline.
Using CFI funds, TRAC also purchased a QPix420 colony picker, which increases efficiency in our pipeline by automating the tedious process of picking bacterial colonies. This instrument is able to identify colonies on a petri dish and automatically sample them using a 96-pin array. The instrument can then transfer the chosen colonies to a variety of different containers for growth or storage, including 96- and 384-well plates. Overall, this allows us to more rapidly progress through the phage selection process and subsequent downstream subcloning steps.
Additionally, CFI funds were used to purchase an Octet HTX instrument that allows our protein biophysicists to perform label-free binding analyses of the antibodies developed at TRAC in a high-throughput manner. With this instrument, we are able to determine the kinetic parameters of up to 96 different antibody-antigen interactions simultaneously. The Octet also provides a convenient method for high-throughput antibody specificity analysis and epitope binning. The data generated by this instrument are immensely important in determining which antibodies proceed to the next stage of development.

TRAC Postdoctoral fellow Dr. Gino Gallo awarded 2016 Charles H. Best Fellowship - August 2016

Dr. Eugenio (Gino) Gallo, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Sachdev Sidhu's laboratory, is benefitting from the support and infrastructure of the TRAC to complete a project aiming to develop synthetic antibodies to integrin receptor proteins as tools to study how integrins contribute to cancer development. The antibodies may also ultimately be candidate biologic drugs to fight cancer. Gino was recently awarded the prestigious 2016 Charles H. Best Postdoctoral Fellowship that each year, supports one outstanding scientist to undertake a project at the Donnelly Centre. Read more about Gino's project here.

TRAC Director Dr. Moffat comments on CRISPR trials - July 24th 2016

TRAC Director and University of Toronto Professor Dr. Jason Moffat commented on the news that CRISPR gene-editing technology is being assessed in clinical trials of human cancer therapies by groups in China and the US. Dr. Moffat, whose lab uses CRSIPR technology extensively to study the biology of genes potentially involved in cancer, talked to Kelly Crowe of CBC News. Read the article here.

TRAC project presented at FACIT's commercial pitch competition - June 1st 2016

A TRAC project was presented at Falcon's Fortunes, an annual commercial pitch competition held by FACIT (Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust). Of the 29 abstracts submitted, 6 were chosen to present to a panel on June 1 at St. Andrew's Club in downtown Toronto. Although not selected as the winners of the $50K prize, Drs. Lia Cardarelli and Christine Misquitta's presentation of an EPO-R selective antibody for anemia treatment was well received by both the audience and judges. It was a great opportunity to showcase the innovation of Ontario scientists and TRAC was proud to participate.

The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario's Lieutenant Governor, visits TRAC - May 18th, 2016

Drs. Sidhu and Moffat and TRAC staff were excited to showcase their research to the Honourable Liz Dowdeswell. Her Honour was at the University of Toronto on her first official visit for an event celebrating youth and innovation. Dr. Sidhu and graduate student, Max London, discussed some of the innovative technology that is used at TRAC and the potential impact on Ontario’s healthcare.

Pharmaceutical giant Celgene injects major funds into academic synthetic antibody research and development - September 2015

The pharmaceutical company Celgene has indicated its intense interest in the development of biologics, notably synthetic antibodies, in the form of a US $25 million sponsorship of the Recombinant Antibody Network (RAN). The RAN, a consortium of US- and Canada-based academic labs dedicated to the development of synthetic antibodies with therapeutic applications, was founded Dr. Sidhu and Drs. Anthony Kossiakoff (UChicago) and Jim Wells (UCSF). The Celgene collaboration will focus on the development of therapeutic antibodies for cancer, inflammation and immunological disorders, and represents significant financial support for TRAC. "Through this partnership, we are taking a giant step forward in the ultimate goal of the RAN: the systematic targeting of the “extra-cellularome,” the cell-surface proteins that control cancer and other diseases", says Dr. Sidhu. "In the future, we envision that we will be able to precisely target cancer cells at the molecular level, which will provide better therapies for patients". Read the press releases here and here.

Visit by the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology) - October 16th 2014

The TRAC team, along with collaborator Dr. Benjamin Neel and members of the Faculty of Medicine Dean's Office were pleased to welcome Minister Holder for a visit to the Donnelly Centre. He was given a tour of the lab and demonstrations of some of the technology and high-throughput equipment used by the TRAC in the production of synthetic antibodies. An update on TRAC success was given by Dr. Pan and Dr. Neel and Pankaj Garg, Megan McLaughlin, Max London and Isabel Leung led demonstrations.

Ebola antibodies

A recent publication in ACS Chemical Biology by Dr. Sidhu and his collaborators at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases was noted as a potential therapy for future ebola outbreaks. The development of a humanized synthetic antibody to the Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV) was led by Dr. Gang Chen, a member of the TRAC scientific team. Although this is not the strain of ebolavirus currently devastating West African countries, SUDV is extremely lethal. Now that a human version of the antibody previously developed by the team has been produced, a strong potential therapy exists for future outbreaks. Read the press release by the American Chemical Society here.

President of the University of Toronto visit - July 9th 2014

Dr. Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto, visited the Sidhu lab on his tour through the Donnelly Centre on July 9th. Dr. Misquitta and members of the Sidhu lab and the TRAC team were delighted to be able to provide a tour of their facilities and share their research with Dr. Gertler and a number of senior administrators.

Kolltan Pharmaceuticals licenses TRAC-developed antibodies, announced December 6th, 2013

Novel anti-KIT receptor antibodies recently developed at TRAC with collaborator Dr. Joseph Schlessinger, were licensed by Kolltan Pharmaceuticals. It is expected that, in addition to possible therapeutic applications, the antibodies will be essential tools for structural biologists. The work in Dr. Sidhu’s lab was led by Dr. Bryce Nelson see paper on See the press release here.

Prime Minister of France visit, Toronto - March 2013

Dr. Sidhu along with the members of his lab and TRAC team were honoured to host a visit from the Prime MInister of France, His Excellency Jean-Marc Ayrault, when he visited the University of Toronto on March 14. On campus to discuss academic collaborations and new student exchange, the Prime Minister and his delegation were presented with an overview of Dr. Sidhu's research and given a tour of his lab in the Donnelly Centre. Further information on the visit can be found by clicking here.

SIAIS launch, Shanghai, China - Feb 2013

Dr. Sidhu and Dr. Pan attended the signing ceremony of the newly founded Shanghai Institute for Advanced Immunochemical Studies (SIAIS), which will be jointly founded by ShanghaiTech University and Shanghai Advanced Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences. The launch of the new Institute represents China’s ambition to establish an immunochemistry and antibody research center with world-class scientists and technology platforms. The institute will be led by its Founding Director, Dr. Richard Lerner, the former President of the Scripps Research Institute. Other founding members will include Roger Kornberg (Stanford) and Ian Wilson (Scripps Institute) and Sachdev Sidhu (University of Toronto). The research efforts will focus on antibody engineering, structural biology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling, biological validation and cellular assays, and in vivo efficacy and pharmacology.