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#UofReginaCares: Caring for our community
Dr. Nevan Krogan’s years of work breaking down silos in the scientific community is bearing fruit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Nevan Krogan’s years of work breaking down silos in the scientific community is bearing fruit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Alexa Rocourt, QBI

U of R alumnus makes much-needed COVID-19 research available to the world

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: April 7, 2020 12:00 a.m.


Every few minutes, Dr. Nevan Krogan’s inbox is pinging with emails from people in Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia,

04-072.jpg
Members of the Quantitative
Biosciences Institute at UCSF
Photo: Alexa Rocourt, QBI

Israel, France and Turkey, to name a few. He’s not a rock star or Hollywood celebrity, but given the interest his COVID-19 work is generating in the media and global scientific community, he may very well be changing the way that science is conducted around the world.

In January when the epidemic started to escalate in China, Krogan BSc’97, MSc’99 pulled together an interdisciplinary team of more than 100 researchers at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and worldwide to study the interactions of the novel coronavirus on the human body at a cellular level. Krogan is a professor and director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at UCSF, and an Investigator at the Gladstone Institutes at UCSF, as well as an alumnus of the University of Regina and Saskatchewan native.  

Together, his research team, known as the QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG), created a map of the

Map-cropped.jpg

The map is a blueprint of how the
virus comes in, hijacks, and rewires
the host. Photo: Diagram by QBI
Coronavirus Research Group

interactions of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and human proteins, and identified 69 drugs or compounds that could be used potentially to fight the virus.

“This map is a blueprint of how the virus comes in, hijacks, and rewires the host during the course of infection,” explained Krogan. “The virus can’t exist by itself. It needs our cells, our genes, and our proteins to live, replicate, and infect.”

On March 22, QCRG released their paper with map and findings, including a rich dataset, under an open licence to the world and received a rapid response from the global scientific community, desperately trying to understand and stop the rising tide of coronavirus infections. With this vital research available under an open licence, scientists and pharmaceutical companies worldwide can access and redistribute the paper, test the findings, make their own adaptations, and work quickly together to stop the spread and destruction of the virus.

Simultaneously, QCRG has also submitted for publication in a leading international science journal.

“The top journals now make it a prerequisite that if you submit something to them on COVID-19, you have to put it out in the open domain,” explained Krogan.

“This is a great testament to how fast things can move when people work together,” said Krogan. “We barely knew about this virus in January and now here we are – we not only have the virus working, but also have generated this map. We’ve made predictions about drugs that we’re actually testing. That’s just unbelievable if you think about it.”

“We’re showing how science can be done and establishing a new paradigm of how to do science,” added Krogan.

QCRG was also the first to clone each of the viral genes, which they are now shipping to labs globally to help other scientists find a treatment for COVID-19. Since their paper was published, QCRG has had more than 250 requests from labs all over the world for the clones, which the labs can then test and share their findings back with QCRG.

“We have Zoom conferences with 150 different scientists that I’ve been leading,” explained Krogan. “We’re

collaborating with groups around the world in a completely unprecedented way of doing science.”

This high level of global scientific collaboration did not come about randomly. For the past three and a half years, Krogan has been working hard in his role as director of QBI to breakdown silos in the scientific community. As a result, he has developed a collaborative network across labs, institutions, academia, and pharmaceutical companies, to share expertise, data, findings, and predictions.

“I see what’s happening as a kind of Canadian phenomenon. Collaboration is the Canadian way of doing things,” he emphasized. “In Regina, in Toronto, in Canada in general, Canadians are very open and generous and collaborative.”

QBI has already established collaborations with leading virology labs around the world such as Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and the Institut Pasteur in Paris, and pharmaceutical companies, like Roche Pharmaceuticals, who could expedite clinical trials on a drug that looks promising.

“People aren’t worried about who gets the credit,” added Krogan. “They’re just trying to get results and be

04-073.jpg

As director of QBI, Krogan leads
global scientific collaboration,
changing the way science is
conducted. Photo: Alexa Rocourt,
QBI

helpful.”

In other ways, Krogan has found approaches to give back to and collaborate with the scientific community at the University of Regina, which helped to fuel his interest in and love of science. In 2019, he created the Jack and June Krogan Women in Science Scholarship to honour his parents. That summer, the first recipient of the scholarship Alexandria Ripplinger, a fourth-year biology student, arrived at UCSF for her internship where she was warmly received.

“Very often, the best people come from Canada – it happens again and again and again,” said Krogan. “You can’t go wrong hiring Canadians, and even more so if they’re from Saskatchewan.”

Krogan’s work is far from being done.

“There’s so much work to do, not just to try to fight this pandemic, but to be ready for the next one,” said Krogan, who plans to create host-protein maps for other coronaviruses including MERS and SARS-1.

The biggest challenge for Krogan now is sustaining the collaborative approach to science that has been started. 

“This is the way science should be done. Instead of rock stars or sports people being on the news you’ve got scientists on the news. Hopefully people appreciate science more and in the future more funding goes to medical research,” emphasized Krogan. “Because these are the heroes in the trenches doing this work to try to help people.”

Check out #UofReginaCares for more stories about U of R alumni, faculty, students, and staff who are using their ingenuity, resolve, and hearts to care for our community during these challenging times.

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