GlycoNet awards $1.45 million to eight projects aimed at improving the health of Canadians

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GlycoNet awards $1.45 million to eight projects aimed at improving the health of Canadians

Funding supports glycomics translational research into post-surgical pain management, cancer diagnosis, and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, infectious diseases and chronic illness

EDMONTON, ALBERTA (March 18, 2019) – The Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet) awarded $1.45 million in grants to support eight research projects, to be carried out at eight universities or research centers across Canada. Funding was allocated in the last quarter of 2018. Whether at the data gathering stage, in clinical trial or ready for market, these innovative projects share a common goal: improving the health of people from coast to coast, while generating positive economic outcomes.

“As a Network of Centres of Excellence, GlycoNet focuses resources from the federal government and partner organizations to address critical medical, social and economic challenges,” says Dr. Elizabeth Nanak, Executive Director, GlycoNet. “Projects are reviewed externally to assess their scientific excellence and commercial potential. These grants are a key part of our knowledge translation strategy which aims to move research out of the lab and into the market and public spaces so that cutting-edge treatments and new medical technologies can benefit Canadians.”

Chains of sugars called glycans have been found to play a role in every major disease, and as a result, there has been a surge of interest in exploring the therapeutic promise of glycomics. Glycans coat the surface of every cell in our bodies, and their attachment to enzymes significantly alters the enzyme’s function. Researchers vested in these projects are working to better understand diseases and conditions that impact the lives of thousands of Canadians. With a focus on glycomics, they are trying to uncover concrete solutions to pressing health needs by:

  • Developing more effective treatments for infection, cancer, and kidney stones;
  • Improving medical imaging of Parkinson’s Disease;
  • Uncovering novel targets for the treatment of arterial diseases;
  • Advancing technologies that improve and facilitate production of cellular therapies;
  • Providing novel, non-opioid, options for post-surgical pain relief.

Project Summaries

  • Ice Recrystallization Inhibitors for Improved Cryopreservation
    Dr. Robert Ben, University of Ottawa – available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $232,942
    The process of ice recrystallization figures prominently into the cryoinjury that cells and tissues sustain during preservation at subzero temperatures and conventional cryoprotectants fail to protect cells from this injury. As a result, the ice recrystallization inhibitors (IRIs) developed by the Ben laboratory are uniquely positioned to improve cryopreservation outcomes and enable emerging regenerative and cellular therapies by permitting the safe and effective short and long-term storage of these cellular products. The goal of this proposal is to facilitate the necessary steps toward commercialization and translation of the IRI technology through four specific aims. These are; 1) scale-up manufacturing, 2) pharmacokinetic (toxicity) profiles, 3) stability and formulation studies and 4) optimization of IRIs in specific cellular applications using collaborators who are end users of this technology in both research and clinical markets.
  • De Novo Synthesis of Nucleoside Analogues for Medicinal and Process Chemistry Purposes
    Dr. Robert Britton, Simon Fraser University
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $93,000
    Nucleoside analogues are highly sought as leads for the treatment of cancer and viral diseases. However, nucleoside synthesis is complicated and continues to limit drug discovery efforts and complicate drug development in this area. To address these issues, Dr. Britton and his collaborators developed a simple and flexible synthesis of nucleoside analogues that is readily adaptable for medicinal chemistry purposes.
  • Neuraminidase 3 as a Trigger of Atherosclerosis
    Dr. Chris Cairo, University of Alberta and Dr. Alexey Pshezhetsky, CHU Sainte-Justine – Dr. Cairo is available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $198,000
    Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries characterized by endothelial dysfunction, vascular inflammation, and accumulation in the intima of the vessel wall of lipids, cholesterol, calcium, and cellular debris. This accumulation ultimately leads to blockage of arteries and is a key risk factor for coronary artery disease, the leading current cause of death and loss of productive life years worldwide. The most commonly used drugs used to treat atherosclerosis block the production of cholesterol. However, statins have limited effectiveness and additional clinical therapies could improve outcomes for more patients. Work going on in GlycoNet is working to establish the role of specific enzymes in the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaques and is testing compounds that block these enzymes as potential therapeutics.
  • Development of Immuno-oncology Therapeutics using a Bicyclic Genetically Encoded Libraries based on 2-fold symmetric linkers (BiGEL2) Discovery Pipeline
    Dr. Ratmir Derda, University of Alberta and Dr. Matthew Macauley, University of Alberta – Dr. Derda is available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $200,000 per year for two years
    This collaborative project pulls from chemistry and biology to develop a new class of stable and potentially membrane permeable and orally bioavailable therapeutic peptides. The project could be a starting point for drug discovery for diseases for which oral therapeutics are not currently available. Even if therapeutic antibody injections are available, developing an equivalent oral treatment could mean less invasive procedures and protocols for patients. A particular area of interest is the development of therapeutics that can work in and remain stable in the gastrointestinal tract. This research is timely due to an increased interest in Siglecs – cell surface proteins that bind sialic acid – because of the role they play in an immuno-oncogenic response. This could lead to the development of next-generation immune checkpoint inhibitors – a type of drug that blocks certain proteins made by some immune system cells. This could revolutionize the way certain cancers are treated.
  • Development of PslG as an Anti-biofilm Therapeutic for Pseudomonas aeruginosa Infections
    Dr. Lynne Howell, The Hospital for Sick Children and Dr. Don Sheppard, McGill University – both available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $210,503
    The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common cause of pulmonary disease in patients suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF) and other chronic pulmonary diseases. Ninety-nine percent of patients with CF will develop P. aeruginosa infections in their lifetime. These infections lead to declining lung function and increased rates of hospitalization. The current standard of care using antibiotics is not effective in eradicating P. aeruginosa pulmonary infections, underscoring the urgent need for effective new therapies to treat these infections. Results from our studies will provide us with preclinical data to evaluate PslG as a novel therapeutic agent for the treatment of P. aeruginosa infections.
  • Evaluation of PET Radiotracers for Imaging Glucocerebrosidase in Parkinson’s Disease
    Dr. Christopher Phenix, University of Saskatchewan – available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $25,000
    Positron emission tomography (PET) is a clinically established, non-invasive technique commonly used for creating medical images that represent the activity of enzymes and receptors in the living human brain. PET has a rich history in brain research by evaluating biological processes that contribute to various disorders, mental health and addiction. To acquire a PET image, the patient is injected with a tiny amount of a radiotracer that has high affinity for a specific protein that is found in a diseased state. Due to the unrivaled sensitivity of a PET camera able to detect microdoses of the radiotracer, images can be obtained that reveal enzyme activity without worrying about the possibility of side effects due to chemical toxicity of the radiopharmaceutical. PET radiotracers are most often labeled with radioactive fluoride (F-18), a short-lived isotope that must be produced locally in a nearby cyclotron facility. Fortunately, the University of Saskatchewan has recently established a state-of-the-art radiopharmacy, called the Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences, that produces clinically used F-18 on a daily basis.The purpose of this project is to build upon our previous research funded by GlycoNet and work towards developing 18F-labeled radiotracers for imaging β- glucocerebrosidase (GCase), an enzyme that has been declared a high priority biomarker and therapeutic target in Parkinson’s disease. Given the unique challenges of PET radiotracer chemistry, we have developed efficient, flexible and adaptable chemical routes for synthesizing new compounds. A PET tracer capable of imaging GCase will be a critical research tool to investigate the role of GCase in Parkinson’s disease, to guide the development of novel Parkinson’s therapies that target GCase, and potentially to lead to a diagnostic aid for confirming the disease earlier.
  • Commercialization of a Novel Hyaluronan-Based Delivery System
    Dr. Molly Shoichet, University of Toronto – available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $152,140
    Since 1995, the Shoichet laboratory has advanced strategies in drug delivery, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine through the design of innovative biomaterials to overcome a diversity of chronic diseases. Our most promising biomaterial comprises two polysaccharides: hyaluronan, an anionic, non-sulfated glycosaminoglycan, and methylcellulose. While these polymers have both been separately used clinically, they have never been combined as we have done in our product, HAMC. HAMC has been shown to enhance survival of stem cell progeny after transplantation into either the retina (for applications in blindness) or the brain (for applications in stroke). In pre-clinical models of blindness and stroke, we achieved functional repair with cells delivered in HAMC (but not in saline controls), underscoring the critical role of HAMC in tissue repair. Moreover, HAMC has been shown to achieve sustained release of many therapeutics. This is particularly applicable for local, sustained release of anesthetics for the treatment of post-operative pain, where there is a clinical need and no good solutions either on the market or in clinical trials. We propose to develop a single-dose product that will be infiltrated into the surgical site to produce post-operative analgesia. This product will also de-risk future use of our technology in cell delivery strategies for blindness and/or stroke.
  • Clinical assessment of a novel small molecule for the treatment and prevention of calcium oxalate kidney stones
    Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, University of Guelph – available for interviews
    GlycoNet contribution – up to $126,310
    Nephrolithiasis is a common urological disorder affecting more than 10 percent of the Canadian population. Globally, the incidence and prevalence of nephrolithiasis demonstrates a similar trend and contributes significantly to the development of chronic kidney disease. The economic burden of nephrolithiasis is substantial with annual spending reported at $5.3 billion in the United States alone. Moreover, the working-age population are most commonly afflicted further increasing the overall economic burden of this condition. Despite sizeable nephrolithiasis related costs and morbidity, and a 5-year recurrence rates approaching 50 percent in affected individuals, the treatment regimens have remained relatively unchanged in the last 30 years. In fact, the current and primary strategy of expectant management results in significant morbidity (requiring a patient to stay at home, using narcotics for pain management, and in many cases re-present to the emergency room with further pain crises or complications). This is clearly not ideal and highlights the need for more advanced therapeutic options. Our group has identified and patented a novel small molecule that we are calling Kidnease, which is capable of preventing and treating calcium oxalate kidney stones in vitro and in vivo. The purpose of this project is to test this molecule in a Phase I human clinical trial.

About GlycoNet

GlycoNet is a pan-Canadian, multidisciplinary research network aiming to deliver solutions to important health issues and improve the quality of life of Canadians through the study of glycomics. GlycoNet is funded by the Networks of Centres of Excellence, a Government of Canada program that supports large-scale, academic-led research networks to build research capacity and accelerate the creation of new knowledge in a specific research area. GlycoNet welcomes opportunities to collaborate with industry, not-for-profit and government partners to advance glycomics translational research. For more information, visit

For media inquiries please contact:
Ali Chou
Communications Associate – Canadian Glycomics Network
(780) 231-5181

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