Patrick Gunning

Patrick Gunning
Professor | Canada Research Chair in Medicinal Chemistry
Place of Birth: 
Paisley, Scotland
First Year Employed at UTM/U of T: 
Department / Division: 
Chemical & Physical Sciences

U of T really gives its young faculty a head start, and I think it really supports research. They provided the funds that enabled me to establish world-class laboratories.

Patrick Gunning

As a teenager, medicinal chemist Patrick Gunning considered becoming an architect, and, today, that is exactly what he is: the architect of organic molecules that have the potential to target and kill various forms of cancer.

Gunning came to UTM in 2007 following a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University. In the ensuing 10 years, he has had an enormous impact on cancer research, as well as research on campus. Although it generally takes 15 years or more and billions of dollars to find organic compounds that have disease-fighting potential, during the past five years, Gunning and his team have created four lead compounds – compounds that show promise of becoming cancer-fighting drugs – that are currently in advanced clinical trials.

“This is the farthest we’ve ever been with a molecule,” Gunning said. “The hope is if it passes advanced preclinical trials in larger animals, then we’re just a year away from human trials.”

Gunning uses a novel approach to drug discovery: designing compounds from scratch to target specific cellular locations where cancer growth can be interrupted. He and his group focus largely on inhibiting the STAT3 and STAT5 proteins, which are found in blood, brain and breast cancers.

Success and innovation breed interest and Gunning’s research group has grown from just four people in 2007 to 30. They will form the core of UTM’s new Centre for Medicinal Chemistry, funded jointly by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research Fund and the Orlando Corporation. The Centre will integrate a network of leading cancer researchers and healthcare institutions, include U of T colleagues and affiliated hospitals.

As his group creates compounds to fight cancer, Gunning is also working toward creating a spin-off company to commercialize successful findings. In addition, he teaches undergraduate courses in organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry.

“I like the whole aspect of teaching students; how to make molecules that have never been made before and to open their eyes to the power of organic chemistry,” he says. “I bring in my cancer research results to show them that the results can be very impactful.” 


Selected Awards:

McLean Award, 2015, Connaught Foundation, to support exceptional emerging researchers in the sciences

Bernard Belleau Award, 2015, Canadian Society for Chemistry, presented to a scientist residing in Canada who has made a distinguished contribution to the field of medicinal chemistry through research involving biochemical or organic chemical mechanisms

David Rae Memorial Award for Innovative Research in the field of Leukemia and Lymphoma Research, 2008, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada


Selected Publications:

TEDx lecture, 2016, A Beginner’s Guide to Killing Cancer Cells

Belton, A., Xian, L., Huso, T., Koo, M., Luo, L. Z., Turkson, J., Page, B. D. G., Gunning, P. T., Liu, G., Huso, D. L., Resar, L. M., “STAT3 inhibitor has potent antitumor activity in B-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells overexpressing the high mobility group A1 (HMGA1)-STAT3 pathway,”  Leukemia & Lymphoma, 2016 – Demonstrates the success of the STAT3 inhibitor to shut down tumour growth in a particular cellular pathway

Ball, D. P., Lewis, A. M., Williams, D., Resetca, D., Wilson, D. J., Gunning, P. T., “Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) inhibitor, S3I-201, acts as a potent and non-selective alkylating agent,Oncotarget, 2016, 7, 20669-20679.