Connaught Innovation Award for Assistant Professor Rob Bonin

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Sensory Plasticity and Reconsolidation Rob Bonin is one of nine University of Toronto researchers to receive Connaught Innovation Awards in 2017.

High attrition rates during drug development continue to be a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry, as approximately 90% of the drugs entering human trials never reach the market. Failure to identify safety concerns during preclinical testing contributes significantly to the high rates of drug attrition. Increasing the monitoring of animal welfare during preclinical testing may represent an effective strategy to improve safety screening, thereby allowing for the earlier detection of drug-related toxicity or pathology.

Dr. Bonin has observed that the interaction of a mouse with various components of its home cage is highly sensitive to the rodent’s welfare, and is sharply reduced by pain, illness, and distress. Capitalizing on this novel behavioural readout, Dr. Bonin, in collaboration with Associate Professor David Dubins of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and Professor Jeff Mogil of McGill University, developed a device that continuously and remotely monitors rodent interaction with its cage lid to provide a measurement of rodent welfare for pharmaceutical testing. Since this device is small, suitable for mass production, and easily integrated into existing cage systems, this technology can be deployed for high-volume monitoring of animal behaviour.

The Connaught Innovation Award for “Automated behavioural platform for rapid in vivo pharmaceutical testing” will allow Dr. Bonin to accelerate the development of this technology into a high-capacity behavioural testing array for the evaluation of new pharmaceutical drugs and formulations. Dr. Bonin will work with Professor Christine Allen and Associate Professor Ian Crandall of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy to validate this array in the assessment of new chemotherapeutic and anti-malarial drugs.

Overall, the widespread implementation of this technology is expected to accelerate the drug development timeline, reduce drug failures during clinical trials, and ultimately reduce the drug costs for patients, consumers, and ultimately the tax-paying public.

The Connaught Fund is the University of Toronto’s premier internal funding program. Founded in 1972, the Connaught Fund was created from the sale of Connaught Laboratories, which first mass-produced insulin, the Nobel award-winning discovery of U of T professors Frederick Banting, Charles Best, James Collip and J.J.R. Macleod. Over the past 45 years, the University has awarded approximately $130 million to U of T researchers for work that will have a transformative impact. The Connaught Innovation Awards provide researchers with valuable funds to aid in technology development, commercialization, and knowledge transfer.