Research Saves Lives

Pieter Cullis, Canada

Dr. Pieter Cullis is a Canadian researcher with a fascinating background whose research, some of which is funded by the Cancer Research Society, is now saving lives! A look back at a career in cancer research that has had an impact on our daily lives.    

Dr. Cullis has accumulated a brilliant career of over 40 years in research. Initially interested by lipids and the role of membranes in the human body, his research progressively led him to find a solution to a problem that was easy to understand but difficult to resolve: the issue of delivering medications within the human body. When a medication such as a cancer drug is administered to a patient, less than 1% reaches the tumour, whereas 99% of the medication travels throughout the body thereby provoking undesirable side effects. Dr. Cullis specifically addressed this situation in his research leading to two medications that have been approved by the FDA, the European Medical Agency (EMA) as well as Health Canada. These drugs are Myocet to treat metastatic breast cancer and Marqibo to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Some of this work was assisted by grants from the Cancer Research Society.  

Research That Has Impacts Beyond the Scope of Cancer Research   

Dr. Cullis is interested in finding a means of delivering medication to the correct place within the body. Throughout his research, he has specifically studied lipid nanoparticles and their functioning, more recently for the administration of medications using nucleic acids such as RNA. This work eventually allowed him to develop a medication delivery system based on lipid nanoparticles.   

Concretely, lipid nanoparticles allow for the creation of a sort of protective bubble around a medication so that it is able to get to and be directly administered into the target cells without posing a danger to the rest of the body. 

In 2014, he was contacted to see how this lipid nanoparticle delivery system could be used with an mRNA vaccine. This all culminated in a collaboration with Pfizer/BioNTech and the development of their vaccine against COVID-19. Today, several million lives have been saved, in great part thanks to the work done by Dr. Cullis and many others.    

Dr. Cullis is also an ardent advocate for research and its impacts. The grants received from the Cancer Research Society have allowed him to advance his research. “There is more hope today than there has ever been before! We are currently in a new era where progress is happening more quickly which could allow us to develop remedies that could revolutionize cancer treatment. It’s really inspiring!”   

 Upon listening to Dr. Cullis, we readily understand that even after 40 years dedicated to his work, he is still very enthusiastic about continuing his research. And the Cancer Research Society is proud to support Dr. Cullis at a crucial time in his career.  

For Manon Pepin, the Cancer Research Society’s President and Chief Executive Officer, it is more important than ever to continue to financially support cancer research.  

“Today, we are observing how Dr. Cullis’ innovative discoveries have a real impact and save lives.! The Society is pleased to have funded his research, which has not only improved the delivery of drugs to cancer patients, but at the same time, contributes to limit the deadly impacts of COVID-19.!”  

For the 2021–2022 year, the Cancer Research Society expects to support no less than 80 research projects. These are researchers across Canada who, like Dr. Cullis, are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge about cancer every day. 

Thank you for giving, for supporting the cause and being at the forefront of tomorrow’s discoveries.  

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