Inaugural McGuigan Symposium celebrates pioneers in drug discovery
13 December 2019
On 26 September, Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences hosted the Inaugural Chris McGuigan Symposium to celebrate outstanding work in drug discovery across the world. The symposium was created to honour the memory of Professor Chris McGuigan, a former member of staff at the School of Pharmacy and a world-leading scientist in the field of drug discovery, having published over 200 papers and taken four of his inventions into human clinical trials, a feat almost unheard of in academia.
A generous donation from Dr Geoff Henson, a friend of Professor McGuigan, enabled the symposium to award three prizes to researchers who have excelled in their fields. The McGuigan Outstanding PhD Thesis Prize was to recognise the best thesis in drug delivery related research by a Cardiff University doctoral graduate and was awarded to Dr Gilda Giancotti for her work on c-FLIP inhibitors.
Dr Giancotti completed her PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at Cardiff University in 2018 under the supervision of Professor Andrea Brancale, working on the development of novel anti-cancer agents for the treatment of breast cancer. She is currently working as a medicinal chemist for the Medicines Discovery Institute at Cardiff University, to develop novel drugs to treat mental health conditions.
Speaking about her prize, Dr. Giancotti said, ‘I am truly honoured to receive the McGuigan Outstanding PhD Thesis Prize. This award represents one of the most significant achievements of my early career, and a further motivation to pursue my work in the research field.’
The McGuigan Rising Star Award was given to Dr. Joana Rocha-Pereira of KU Leuven. This award is for an early career researcher who has made a significant, original and internationally recognised impact. Dr. Rocha-Pereira’s work focussed on creating new model systems for the discovery of medicines that target norovirus.
‘I think it's very special,’ she said of her prize. ‘Drug discovery is what I wanted to do, it's why I chose to study pharmacy, and being here in the Symposium in memory of a man who's given so much to drug discovery is very good.’
Finally, the McGuigan Prize for Distinguished Work in Drug Discovery is an award to recognise a senior researcher who has a distinguished international reputation and proven track record of leadership in initiating or progressing new scientific principles, or translating drug discovery towards the development of human medicines.
The inaugural prize was awarded to Ralf Bartenschlager of Heidelberg University, for his work on finding a cure for hepatitis C. Professor Bartenschlager gained his PhD in 1990 and over the last thirty years his work has included innovative imaging methods and cell culture systems with the aim of achieving detailed insights into the complex interactions between the host and its pathogens. These in-depth cell biological studies have led to the development of drugs that can cure hepatitis C in 94-99% of patients following a twelve week course, with minimal side effects.
‘The McGuigan Prize for Distinguished Work in Drug Discovery is a true honour and recognition of the work my team and I did, and I am extremely thankful for that,’ said Professor Bartenschalger. ‘At the same time, I consider the work of Chris McGuigan and me a prime example how basic research in medicinal chemistry and virology and contributed to antiviral therapy of hepatitis C virus infection: By the development of ingenious pro-tide chemistry by Chris and the establishment of cell-based screening systems suitable for antiviral drug development by my team. It’s been a true privilege having been part of these developments that laid the ground for curative therapy of chronic hepatitis C.’
Following the prizes, Head of School Professor Mark Gumbelton, chaired a fascinating panel discussion with David Owen, Colin Greengrass, Daniela Riccardi and Malcolm Mason, all of whom have excelled in the field of drug discovery. The future of medicine, with all its challenges and opportunities, was debated in a lively forum between the panellists and audience.
The symposium will be a bi-annual event hosted by the School of Pharmacy, and the opportunity to celebrate pioneering work in the essential field of drug discovery is welcomed. Professor Andrea Brancale, friend of Chris McGuigan said, ‘It was a great day, with excellent scientific talks and intellectually stimulating conversations. I believe it was a truly inspirational event, in particular to the young researchers that have attended. I think it was a very fitting way to honour and remember Chris and the incredible person he was.’