He’s helping to make cancer drugs more effective, and on Thursday, May 3, the federal government announced that Brock University chemist Tomas Hudlicky, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Organic Synthesis and Biocatalysis, has been renewed for a third term.
For more than 25 years, Hudlicky has studied the use of biological methods to manufacture chemicals with the aim of making “new and active derivatives available for the manufacture of anti-cancer drugs,” he says.
Through the Canada Research Chairs program, the Government of Canada invests around $265 million each year to fund post-secondary research by some of the top experts across engineering, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.
Hudlicky was first selected for a seven-year CRC term in 2003, and that was renewed again in 2010. His third term will take the Brock researcher into 2024.
Through his research, the Professor of Chemistry has made a number of breakthroughs. Last year, a team of scientists tested out several variations of the compound pancratistatin (PST) that Hudlicky had created and patented.
The results of the tests, conducted on 20 different types of cancer cells, showed that Hudlicky’s compound appears to be capable of killing cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. The PST substance is found in the spider lily and been shown to cause cancer cells to die, but its very low rate of natural production is a major challenge to research and clinical advancement.
The construction of new drugs involves manufacturing what are known as unnatural derivatives of natural compounds such as PST or narciclasine, a congener of PST that is more available from natural sources.
These derivatives are available through chemical synthesis from Hudlicky’s laboratory. He and other chemists artificially enhance a natural compound’s properties through synthesis of derivatives.
Hudlicky says it’s still not clear how and why PST brings about cell death, but said some of the new synthetic derivatives made in his laboratory “are actually more potent and more bioavailable than the natural compounds.”
Bioavailability measures how much of a substance such as a drug is absorbed into a living system and how quickly it is absorbed.
Hudlicky is continuing research on discovering and manufacturing anti-cancer compounds that can be used in drugs to treat the disease. With funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and a Canadian pharmaceutical company, he is developing derivatives of Amaryllidaceae alkaloids, some of which are isolated from daffodils and snowdrops.
The professor has also formed a partnership with McMaster University Chemistry Professor James McNulty to develop more compounds that can be used in effective cancer treatment, efficient pro-drug design and other commercial uses.
Brock University holds 10 Canada Research Chairs. In addition to Hudlicky, they include: Julia Baird, CRC in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience; Karen Campbell, CRC in Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging; Stephen Cheung, CRC in Environmental Ergonomics; Vincenzo De Luca, Tier 1 CRC in Plant Biotechnology; Andrea Doucet, CRC in Gender, Work, Care and Community; Michael Holmes, CRC in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics; Ping Liang, CRC in Genomics and Bioinformatics; Jennifer Rowsell, CRC in Multiliteracies; and Wendy Ward, CRC in Bone and Muscle Development.