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April 2015

Small company makes big advances in fighting antibiotic-resistant diseases and cancer

In recent years, we’ve seen news stories warning that the antibiotic drugs which fight harmful bacteria could be losing the war against evolving diseases. But a Halifax company is working on ways to help make antibiotics more effective, with far-reaching implications that could carry-over into cancer treatment. In collaboration with Mitacs, Chelation Partners is harnessing the knowledge of some bright young minds at Dalhousie University to make this happen.

Chelation Partners’ approach to fighting antibiotic-resistant diseases is a novel one: cutting off their supply of iron. Without iron, bacteria have a tough time growing, and they’re more vulnerable to the effects of antibiotics. What’s more, Chelation Partners has discovered this tactic could also be applied to the fight against cancer. Cancer cells seem to be more sensitive to lower iron levels than other cells in the body, so reducing the availability of the metal might restrict the growth of cancer and boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Since 2012, Mitacs funding has allowed Chelation Partners to bring in four Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellows and a Mitacs Accelerate graduate student. They’ve worked on a trio of research projects: one investigating how reducing iron can help antibiotics prevent infections and inflammation in patients who have had eye lenses implanted; the other two have involved cutting iron levels to help fight cancer.

These are very important areas of study that we wouldn’t have been able to do without the help of the Mitacs programs,” says Chelation Partners Co-Founder and Vice-President of Business Development Bill Cheliak.

Brennan Gillis, Mitacs Director of Business Development for Nova Scotia, says part of the secret to Chelation Partners’ success has been its attitude towards welcoming new talent.

“The team at Chelation Partners is really positive and outgoing. They’re working with Mitacs on projects that create new opportunities for young researchers, and collaborating with faculty and students at Dalhousie and Cape Breton University.”

“This kind of collaboration works for everybody,” says Bill. “Interns get to do research they haven’t done before, they have new opportunities to publish their findings, and their professors get new grants.

“Mitacs gives us access to really good people, as well as to equipment and infrastructure at universities that we — as a small company — could never think of getting otherwise.”


Mitacs gratefully acknowledges Western Economic Diversification, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and New Brunswick for their support of Mitacs Elevate. In addition, select Elevate fellows are supported through Mitacs Accelerate and its funding partners.