Ambrose Cheung Receives National Scholar-Innovator Award

Ambrose Cheung, MD, a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, has received a 2017 Harrington Scholar-Innovator Award from the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. The award is one of only a few given annually to top physician-scientists in the U.S. through a rigorous and highly competitive selection process.

The Harrington Discovery Institute is part of The Harrington Project for Discovery and Development, a $300-million national initiative designed to be a resource for promising physician-scientists in an effort to advance discoveries into medicines that improve human health.

“I’m very pleased and excited—this is exactly the kind of support that is needed to bridge the gap that exists between making discoveries in the lab and introducing clinical treatments that can help patients,” says Cheung about the award, which will provide up to $700,000 to the Cheung Lab over the next two years.

Importantly, Cheung will also have access to the Harrington Discovery Institute’s Innovation Support Center, which offers drug development expertise and project management support, as well as connections to commercialization partners, through its Advisory Panel of seasoned experts who have held leadership positions in the pharmaceutical industry. While scholars will have access to all Panel members and the Center’s full suite of services, each will work with a mentor to develop a specific project plan to help them advance their research into the clinical realm.

The focus of Cheung’s project is to develop an adjuvant compound that can effectively neutralize MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureas or staph)—a commonly occurring collection of often virulent strains of bacteria that cause infections in different parts of the body and are more difficult to treat than most strains of antibiotic-sensitive staph because of their increasing resistance to antibiotics.

“Instead of screening for a new compound that by itself can kill the bug, we’re looking for a compound that will synergize with and enhance the efficacy of an antibiotic that is already on the market,” explains Cheung, who will collaborate with a chemist from the University of Minnesota on the project.

The project builds on previous studies that Cheung and his colleagues have undertaken, which established that a compound known as DNAC-2—identified through a federally funded screening consortium at Harvard Medical School—could kill staph bacteria in the presence of the antibiotic oxacillin (a relative of methicillin), even though the bacteria had developed complete resistance to oxacillin.

Cheung’s Harrington project has two main aims: to identify the target of the compound, that is, what part of the bacteria it hits, and to develop multiple molecular side chains to enhance the compound’s effectiveness, he says.

“If we can show high efficacy, low toxicity and an optimal metabolic profile, then the next step will be to test the compound in animal studies,” says Cheung. “From there, we hope to advance to clinical trials, with the longer-term goal of developing an effective vaccine or drug against MRSA.”

After receiving his BA from Colby College in Maine and his MD from Northwestern University Medical School in Illinois, Cheung completed an internal medicine residency and three-year infectious disease fellowship at UCLA School of Medicine. He began his distinguished career in basic research at Rockefeller University in New York, where he spent 12 years, part of it as Associate Professor, before coming to Dartmouth. Cheung has authored 154-peer reviewed publications in staph pathogenesis, stress response, and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance.