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A field of possibilities

Exploring the structure, chemistry, genetics and behaviour of everything from bacteria to mammalian cells and viruses to microorganisms, microbiologists and immunologists look at how all living things behave in the environment and in the immune system. Within the environment and the human body, there is not much the study of Microbiology and Immunology does not touch. This is what drew Brad Thompson, PhD, to the field in the first place.

Currently, Thompson is the CEO of Oncolytics Biotech Inc., a biotechnology company focused on the development of pharmaceutical products for use as potential therapeutics for a broad range of cancers. Specifically, the company is investigating the use of a common benign virus as an active agent in cancer therapy and has conducted over 30 clinical trials in 14 countries.

Completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, Thompson studied bacterial metabolism, or, as it was called then, molecular biology, a field he believes is the most interesting field of research he has ever seen.

His interest in molecular biology piqued, Thompson then decided to pursue a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. “Everything I could have conceived doing in my future was covered by Microbiology and Immunology,” Thompson said.

He chose Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Western University. He knew of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology’s long-standing tradition in fundamental research in bacteriology and that it was one of the top ranked universities in Canada.

Most importantly, however, he came to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry because of Dr. Robert Murray. “Dr. Murray is the father of modern Canadian bacteriology. He was, and still is, one of the most inherently curious people I have ever met. Working with someone like him is very compelling,” Thompson said. “He was a perfect match for me. He allowed me to follow my own independent research path. I am well known for that now, and that has allowed me to do the various things I have done in my career."

Choosing a topic that would allow him to study with Dr. Murray, Thompson spent his PhD years researching cell wall structure and biochemical analysis of a bacterium called Deinococcus radiodurans. Known as ‘Conan the Bacterium', this specific bacterium can survive in extreme conditions and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the world’s toughest bacterium.

Upon the completion of his PhD in 1981, Thompson launched into his career. “I went straight from my studies to working for an oil company where I performed enhanced oil recovery research. I then went to work for a provincial research institute, mostly focusing on biologicals manufacturing and scale up. That led me to becoming the founding CEO of three different companies,” he said.

Oncolytics Biotech Inc. for which Thompson is CEO, hope their product becomes a part of the standard of care in a number of cancer indications, potentially giving people with cancer the ability live through all of life’s major milestones. 

When he’s not in the lab, Thompson enjoys spending time with his wife of 36 years enjoying the Rocky Mountains, participating in just about any outdoor activity mountain life has to offer.