U of R alumnus presents groundbreaking collaborative approach to COVID-19 research

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 25, 2020 5:00 p.m.

Dr. Nevan Krogan BSc’97, MSc’99 and Jacqueline Fabius from the University of California, San Francisco, who have been leading a global COVID-19 research effort, presented their research during U  of R’s August 25 virtual Research with Impact.
Dr. Nevan Krogan BSc’97, MSc’99 and Jacqueline Fabius from the University of California, San Francisco, who have been leading a global COVID-19 research effort, presented their research during U of R’s August 25 virtual Research with Impact. Credit: University of California, San Francisco

One University of Regina biology alumnus  – now a professor of cellular molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – believes that changes to the way we approach research could more quickly bring about a COVID-19 cure and vaccine.

On August 25, during an exclusive virtual U of R Research with Impact presentation, distinguished U of R alumnus Dr. Nevan Krogan BSc’97, MSc’99 and his colleague Jacqueline Fabius from the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at UCSF presented Global Scientific Collaborations and Drug Identification During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Dr. Nevan Krogan in his UCSF office during the August 25 virtual presentation.

A proud native of Regina, Krogan received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and his master’s degree in biology from the U of R before pursuing his PhD in medical genetics from the University of Toronto. Since that time he has authored more than 250 papers, became the director of QBI under the UCSF School of Pharmacy and a senior investigator at Gladstone Institute, and has received worldwide acclaim for his research.

During the hour-long presentation hosted by U of R’s Dean of Science Dr. Douglas Farenick, Krogan and Fabius detailed their work as members of the QBI’s Coronavirus Response Group (QCRG), a team of scientists from across their campus and around the globe who have been working together to identify drugs that will effectively treat coronavirus symptoms.

“Normally scientists work in silos and rarely work together,” said Krogan. “This group of scientists works collaboratively, bringing their diverse expertise to bear.”

Historically, science has been singular in its focus with a tendency to reward individuals – rather than teams of researchers. Instead of keeping their pandemic research to themselves, Krogan and his team made their cell map research public.

This groundbreaking approach to research has allowed the QCRG to make tremendous research strides in a very short period of time.

“When developing cell maps of diseases, it usually takes years to complete,” said Krogan. “Due to the collaborative effort of our scientists and working with others around the world, we were able to map COVID-19 out in a matter of weeks. We were the first group in the world to clone out the SARS-2 genes, and we were happy to share our results with other researchers, no strings attached.”

Jacqueline Fabius, Chief Operating Officer for the QBI highlights the importance of communications in effective research collaboration.

Fabius, the Chief Operating Officer for the QBI, heads a number of initiatives including establishing relationships and collaborations around the world, as well as media and communication strategy for the Institute, commended the work that has already been done in pursuit of a common goal.

“We posted to our Twitter account that we were willing to share the genes with anyone who would reach out to us,” said Fabius. “More than 370 institutions in 40 countries reached out. We have also been able to facilitate the collaboration with these researchers through a number of online tools – allowing them to ask specific questions and receive answers in a timely manner.”

During the past eight months, the QCRG teams have already made unprecedented scientific strides, identifying proteins of the disease and narrowing in on ten different FDA-approved drugs that have shown anti-viral effects.

“At this point, it’s looking like the vaccine will be a ‘cocktail’ of medications – which is what happened with HIV,” said Krogan. “As we work toward clinical drug trials, all preliminary results have looked promising.”

With this collaborative approach to research proving so successful, Krogan believes that the COVID-19 pandemic will be addressed and future pandemics will be treated more quickly and efficiently.

“The silver lining is that we have found just how fast we can move scientifically when we break down silos,” said Krogan. “Imagine what we could do if we pulled together to cure breast cancer or Parkinsons or Alzheimers?”

In addition, Krogan is interested in removing barriers for younger students – particularly women – wanting to pursue research careers. To that end, Krogan created the Jack and June Krogan Women in Science Scholarship. The scholarship, named in honour of his parents, gives gifted U of R women in science students a fully-paid research opportunity at Krogan’s UCSF lab, encouraging U of R students to pursue their dreams.

“If you are from the University of Regina, you can pretty much do anything you want. You can train there and have a big impact,” said Krogan, drawing attention to his Rider green blazer and gesturing to the map of Regina hanging in his office. “Dream big. Do big things. Then tell people you are from Saskatchewan!”

Offering a sign of hope in these challenging times, Krogan believes that with the success this new way of approaching research, we are getting closer to a COVID-19 cure.

“I’m an optimist,” said Krogan. “It’s tough to say when a cure will be found, but with so many people working on it together, it’s looking promising that we could have a cure by December and a vaccine ready for distribution in the new year.” 


Watch Research with Impact: COVID-19 with Dr. Nevan Krogan BSc’97, MSc’99 & Jacqueline Fabius on YouTube

U of R Alum Dr. Nevan Krogan one of those leading the race to develop COVID-19 treatments

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