Chris McGuigan Symposium recognizes excellence in drug discovery
13 May 2022
The Chris McGuigan Symposium took place on 22 April at Cardiff University’s Main Building. The bi-annual awards ceremony celebrates and rewards the work of three scientists who have made a substantial contribution to the field of drug discovery.
The event stems from a generous endowment from Dr. Geoff Henson, a friend of the School of Pharmacy’s late professor, Chris McGuigan. Professor McGuigan was a hugely influential figure in drug discovery, not only as a brilliant scientist but also thanks to his extraordinary ability to achieve clinical translation of his work.
The competition for the awards this year was very strong in all three categories but after a rigorous judging procedure three winners emerged: Dr Wioleta Milena Zalek won The McGuigan Outstanding PhD Thesis Award, Dr Michael Menden the McGuigan Rising Star Award, and the McGuigan Award for Distinguished Work in Drug Discovery went to Professor Johan Neyts.
The three categories celebrate researchers at different stages in their careers. Dr Zelek wrote her PhD on targeting a cluster of proteins called membrane attack complex (MAC) that the body produces to combat common inflammatory diseases. In lay terms, an ancient part of the immune system called the complement system is triggered when danger is sensed. Part of the response can be the production MAC, which attacks pathogens, but this in itself can cause unwanted side effects which includes new diseases such as macular degeneration. Dr Zelek has been working on antibodies that attack a protein called C7, which is part of the cluster of proteins and which, if inhibited, can stop the production of MAC before it causes any problems.
Dr Michael Menden won the McGuigan Rising Star award for his work in computational biology. This expanding and exciting field analyses enormous biomedical datasets to better understand the nature of disease and how to fight it. Dr Menden’s technology allows us to drill down into data in a way hitherto unthinkable, which will in time revolutionise the field of medicine and lead to new drug targets and precision medicine that can be tailored to individual patients according to their own unique genomes.
The final award, in recognition of a career that has made an outstanding contribution to drug discovery, was won by Professor Johan Neyts of KU Leuven. Professor Neyts has spent his career battling viruses, from dengue to SARS-CoV2. He has published over 600 papers, run a laboratory developing antiviral strategies, and developed a track record par excellence for translating his research into medicines for human use. This latter achievement has seen several of his antiviral compounds licensed to major pharmaceutical companies to combat Hepatitis C, Dengue fever and Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
The ceremony took place in the grand surrounds of Cardiff University’s Main Building and was attended by researchers from across the country. Following the awards, the winners celebrated with a meal at the Park House restaurant. Professor Neyts, a friend of Chris McGuigan said, “I cherish the wonderful moments together with Chris, whether it was discussing science and collaborations, or having a beer or dinner. It’s still hard to believe that Chris is no longer among us. This award will keep the memories to this fantastic man vivid.”