A field of possibilities

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The breadth of research opportunities in Microbiology and Immunology first attracted Brad Thompson, PhD'81, to the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

From genetics and behaviour to bacteria and microorganisms, the field offered many possibilities. "Everything I could have conceived doing in my future was covered by Microbiology and Immunology," explained Thompson.

Attending the University of Alberta for his undergraduate degree, Thompson studied bacterial metabolism, then called molecular biology, a field he says is the most interesting he has ever studied.

His interest in molecular biology piqued, Thompson then decided to pursue a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology and chose to study at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

He appreciated that the Department of Microbiology and Immunology had a long-standing tradition in fundamental research in bacteriology and he knew of Western University's reputation as one of the top ranked universities in Canada.

But the biggest draw for Thompson was 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 a person like that is very compelling," Thompson said. "He was a perfect match for someone like me. He allowed me to follow my own independent research path. I am well known for that now, and that has created many opportunities throughout my career."

Choosing a topic that would allow him to study under Dr. Murray, Thompson spent his PhD years looking at the 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 began his career in research. "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 being the founding CEO of three different companies," he said.

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.

The company's hope is that 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 exploring the Rocky Mountains, participating in just about any outdoor activity mountain life has to offer.

Thompson will be back in the London area on May 1 as one of the symposium speakers at the Microbiology and Immunology Diamond Jubilee Celebration. Alumni of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology are invited to celebrate the Department's 75th anniversary. The day-long event will include a symposium, wine and cheese reception and celebratory dinner. For more information, click here. To register for the event, click here.