SAINT JOHN, N.B. – A University of New Brunswick Saint John cancer researcher, supported by ResearchNB, has been granted a Canadian patent for a novel, potentially life-saving myeloma cancer drug candidate modelled after a major component from the naturally occurring “bee glue.”
“I focus my research on challenging disease conditions, and hence, I am drawn to myeloma, a type of blood cancer that’s currently difficult to treat and impacts mostly elderly individuals,” says Dr. Alli Murugesan, a UNBSJ biomedical and translational researcher. “Most myeloma patients who undergo treatment, at some point, relapse with the same cancer or develop secondary cancers. Through my collaborative research, I want to make a tangible difference in the lives of people with blood cancer, so I go through the arduous process of creating both patents and high-impact research publications.”
Propolis, or “bee glue,” is a resinous substance created by bees as they collect sticky sap from trees and mix it with their saliva. Bees use the resulting propolis, an antimicrobial agent, to protect their hives and support their overall health. Dr. Murugesan’s research team found that a similar modelled synthetic version of the compound (caffeic acid phenethyl ester derivative) effectively stops the growth of blood cancer cells. The Canadian patent was granted in 2020, and her team recently received the good news that the United States Patent and Trademark Office is currently reviewing the product and will make a decision soon.
Dr. Murugesan collaborates with Dr. Mohamed Touaibia (Professor, Université de Moncton). Students from UNB, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick and Mount Allison University have also contributed to her exciting research. The team has completed the preclinical laboratory testing phase of the project and it is advancing towards further validations, hoping to see it on the market as a viable treatment.
Dr. Murugesan started her independent research career as a faculty member at the Department of Nursing and Health Sciences at UNBSJ, with an adjunct academic position in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick. With Canadian and international collaborations, she is expanding her research, including lymphoma and sophisticated single-cell sequencing technologies.
In her academic research career, Dr. Murugesan often looks to nature for novel cures to help treat life-threatening challenges. So far, she has four successfully granted patents on treatments derived from bitter melon, shrew venom and bee glue.
“My father taught me that nature will always provide for us with everything, including the cures,” she says of her upbringing in Pondicherry, India. “So many answers to our medical issues are all around us and can be found in our natural environment. It is just about knowing where to look and the perseverance to keep searching. Having made the Maritimes my home, I am also paying attention to our natural resources in our rivers and oceans in New Brunswick to develop novel treatments.”
ResearchNB is a major supporter of Dr. Murugesan’s research.
“ResearchNB is vital for our success since our students are largely funded through their summer studentships funds and other bursaries,” she says. “The organization has given me tremendous confidence and energy to dream big and has been a key player in helping me attract highly skilled and motivated research students and staff to support the important work we are doing.”
ResearchNB is the province’s research and innovation enabler and was created through a recent merger of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation and BioNB. Bringing the two organizations together as ResearchNB presents a more cohesive vision for research and innovation in New Brunswick. The board is made up of key players in the research sector, including representatives of industry, academia and government, and they work collaboratively to drive advancements for the benefit of New Brunswickers.
“Dr. Murugesan’s findings have the potential to change the way blood cancer is treated,” says Damon Goodwin, chief executive officer of ResearchNB. “Her novel approach to research is helping set New Brunswick on the map as a centre of health care research excellence in this country, and we’re pleased to be able to continue to support her groundbreaking work.”
Dr. Murugesan’s research has also been supported by MITACS, Springboard Atlantic, Terry Fox Research Institute and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. She was awarded a Health Research Excellence Grant by the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation in 2022. She actively contributes to the growth of the next generation of researchers by serving on the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute and the Canadian Cancer Society’s training and research advisory committees.
Dr. Murugesan is working towards establishing an interdisciplinary health research innovation and translational cluster in New Brunswick thanks to recently being awarded another ResearchNB grant. She firmly believes that the innovative ideas, passion for research and vibrant interdisciplinary research environment created by the cluster will be successful in helping attract top talent and retain them in New Brunswick.