One of the top ten causes of death worldwide, tuberculosis (TB) has evolved together with the human population for millennia, adapting to complex treatment regimens and becoming increasingly resistant to first- and second-line drugs. Today, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis strikes over 550,000 people each year worldwide. Moreover, even when the disease is curable with currently available methods, the treatment process is lengthy and complicated, prompting some people to drop out of their treatment plans, putting their health and lives at risk.
Dr. Av-Gay is currently participating in a WIPO Re:Search-brokered collaboration on tuberculosis between the University of British Columbia and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited. On World TB Day, WIPO Re:Search asked Dr. Yossef Av-Gay, a researcher in TB drug discovery and development, a few questions about his work.
WIPO Re:Search: Tell us more about your career in TB research. How did you start working in this field? What do you consider your most significant contribution to modern TB research?
Dr. Av-Gay: Once easily treatable and considered a “won-over” disease, TB reappeared in the middle of the 1990’s with new force. This reappearance, and particularly the emergence of antimicrobial resistant strains, prompted me to start working in the field and subsequently launch the Av-Gay Lab at UBC. A few decades later, the Lab’s discoveries have been licensed to pharmaceutical companies and two startup companies that I co-founded. I believe the most significant discovery in my career to date has been the identification and characterization of PtpA, a protein phosphatase in Mtb that inhibits the normal macrophage response to infection.
WIPO Re:Search: What are you currently working on?
Dr. Av-Gay: TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, so there is no shortage interesting work to pursue. I’m currently working on finding small molecules and natural products that block Mycobacterium tuberculosis within infected macrophages (human immune cells), in order to prevent the spread of the disease. I’m also researching mechanisms by which the pathogen interferes with “normal” host macrophage signaling, to understand better at what step the infection process can be blocked. Lastly, I am currently studying Mycobacterium tuberculosis post-translational modifications (phosphorylation, thiols modifications) and their impact on TB pathophysiology.
WIPO Re:Search: What do you see as the most urgent challenge in the TB field globally?
Dr. Av-Gay: I am sure my colleagues will agree with me when I say that to this day, TB’s drug resistant strains and the subsequent depletion of our drug arsenal to treat these notorious infections remain the most urgent challenges to address. Researchers around the world are working on this problem, including via WIPO Re:Search, which has facilitated several collaborations to address this particular challenge. Yet, with more than 4,000 people dying from TB daily, the importance of not only conducting this research, but also accelerating its results, is hard to underestimate.
WIPO Re:Search: What do you find exciting about your daily work?
Dr. Av-Gay: I love research, and am passionate about solving problems and discovering new things. Microbiology and the study of infectious diseases fascinate me. I am glad to be able to apply these interests to help other people. Moreover, addressing such a global challenge as TB requires high levels of collaboration and openness. Working in a collaborative manner with international researchers across borders is what inspires me. I’ve had trainees from every continent in the world, except Antarctica! This feeling of unity with professionals across the globe has kept me motivated to fight this resistant disease every day for the past 30 years.
From: WIPO Re:Search Advancing Science on Tuberculosis | March 23, 2020