back to article Canadian kid uses supercomputing to cure cystic fibrosis

A Canadian teenager has scooped a CAN$5,000 prize and deserved glory after successfully wielding the power of a scientific supercomputing network to develop a mix of drugs which could be used to fight cystic fibrosis. Marshall Zhang, a Grade 11 student at Bayview Secondary School in Richmond Hill near Toronto, used Canada's …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    I'm impressed.

  2. hplasm
    Thumb Up

    Nice going Mr Zhang!

    How about having a look at cancer before you get too old and cynical?

  3. trarch
    Thumb Up


    A 16-year-old is doing research like this? I now feel completely insignificant.

    Kudos to him though, it's good that there is support and encouragement for such uses of talent.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So which large pharmacom will steal the idea, patent the results, and make a tidy profit out of exploiting misery?

    1. Victor Ludorum

      The clue is in the article

      The "Sanofi-Aventis BioTalent Challenge".

      I'm guessing Sanofi-Aventis retain all rights and IP for anything they award a prize for....?

      Cynical? Me?


    2. ptermx

      so what?

      Read the story and you'll see that Sanofi-Aventis is named as sponsor of the competition. If the idea is actually "stolen", then any patent granted to the thief would be invalid. If you think it's so bad for the pharma industry to make money out of the products it develops, would you rather it was all closed down? As for "exploiting misery", last time I checked, doctors and nurses get paid for what they do. Is that "exploiting misery"?

      1. Bear Features


        money and ethics don't mix... please don't suggest that they are working hard to cure, when really they are working hard to medicate.

        Example, why do we constantly hear about obesity drugs, when really, it should be about eating properly and not selling crap processed food. But yet... let's medicate when no medication is needed. ;)

        1. Mark 65

          @Bear Features

          "Example, why do we constantly hear about obesity drugs, when really, it should be about eating properly"

          That's because, unfortunately, there are some obese people that are just big fat lazy weak-willed bastards who have no intention of dieting or exercising and would rather pop a pill or get their gut stapled. I can speak from first hand observations of a family of 3 when on holiday who each attended the all-inclusive buffet 3 times for the main meal and 3 times each for the dessert. Every day. That's just plain fucking greedy and, no doubt, the target market.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          This is a genetic disease that kills your children in parts such as their lungs. Not a conspiracy.

          This research apparently tested multiple(?) existing drugs as if taken together, which may mean that it doesn't get patented as a new treatment, but I don't know. The combination therapy checks out on the computer simulatiuon and it checks out in a little glass dish in a laboratory, and presumably does so substantially better than current treatment regimes, which, in turn, nowadays have a very good chance of getting you past age 18 before you need the lung transplant to keep you alive. But treating actual patients is different. None of this, by the way, is a joke.

    3. Reg Varney

      Yes, and all they do ...

      is to put up the $1Bbillion to fund the 10 years of clinical trials for the 5% chance that the drug will make it to market. The bastards.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        getting a bit sick of this bollocks

        poor big-pharma all those costs, small percentage probabiltiy of getting a viable product at the end of it all.

        so kindly point out to me just why it is that the most profitable companies in all developed economies are bleedin pharmaceuticals???

        $1 billion to develop painkillers - out of 20 attempts 1 gets to market, profit from that 1 $50 billion - overall profit $30 billion

        thank god they are all such altruistic good guys, co i know i wouldnt be at all interested in those piddling little returns.

    4. Figgus

      @The Anti-Corporation types

      "So which large pharmacom will steal the idea, patent the results, and make a tidy profit out of exploiting misery?"

      Yeah, much better if those companies didn't even exist and NOBODY made medicine at all. In fact, I bet that most of what you own comes from those evil corporations. Even worse, if you have a retirement plan I bet YOU are part of those faceless entities of evil!!!

      You anti-corporate types are silly.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        mmmmm Feel the

        Feel the power of my troll

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I remember the days....

    I wonder how much help his dad/teacher gave him in this project. My entire physics class got straights A's. Oh Mr Leslie.

  6. dogged

    This is amazing.

    Really. Best story of the year.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      Now the down side is that it will take years (as stated) for the drug to be put through additional non-human trials, then a (few) human trials, FDA approval, etc before it will be available to the many individuals staring death in the face during that time, as most die by the age of 22 or so.... I'd certainly hate to be a sufferer just hitting the 20yr mark, knowing I'll die just a year or two before being able to be treated.

      1. Eric Olson

        No need to be cynical...

        At least here in the US, one of the best funded disease-based foundations is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation ( Likely they will throw large amounts of cash at any corporation willing to bring a drug to market (see the recent payment of $75 million over 5 years to a small biotech firm). And more importantly, this isn't a cure so much as a cocktail of drugs has the possibility of correcting the underlying defect enough to allow near-normal cell function. It's a similar approach to something the above biotech firm is doing with a number of drugs. It will make lots of money, as the genetic defect will still require daily dosage. Now, given that I hoover down 30+ pills a day for CF, I'll take a substantial reduction in that, especially if it's proactive therapy instead of reactive.

        Also, at least in the US, CF drugs (and drugs for other "smaller" diseases and disorders) get what's called Orphan drug status, which means that there are greater patent protections to the developer, financial incentives, and often times expedited approval processes. The theory goes is that if you have a market of 50,000 for one drug, and a market of 5,000,000 for another drug, you're going to focus the time, energy, and money on the latter, cause if successful, you have a blockbuster (see dysfunction, erectile), while all you get for treating the 50,000 is a warm fuzzy feeling and a couple of bucks back for the effort. Is this the greatest arrangement in the world? No... but it's been extraordinarily effective at bringing quality treatments to those of us with rarer disorders.

        And what I would be interested in seeing is if this kid found the same kind of drugs that Vertex has is Phase 2 and 3. Those were found in a similar way, using high-throughput computing to fold and shape proteins to see what might interact to existing chemical compounds.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Vs

    Vegetarian Sorbet?

    No contest there really is there.

    1. Cowardly Animosity


      Yes, it might sound trite, but it brings a smile to the face of those with severe dairy/soya allergies.

      A penguin, because I'm sure they'd love veggie sorbet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up


        That came second, so it's win-win!

      2. Jedit Silver badge

        You fail, and so do they

        Last time I looked, all sorbet was made of ice water and glucose (AKA sugar) and therefore is vegetarian by definition.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Not always

          You can make a lighter sorbet by adding beaten egg white. But it's not worth it.

    2. amanfromearth

      Well.. maybe there is..

      You can make tasty sorbet out of vegetarians.

      .. Who knew??

      1. GumboKing

        That guy from the NRA knew...

        "It's made of PEOPLE!!!"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Vegetarian sorbet

      Well here's prior art which I make on a regular basis.

      500g caster sugar

      250ml fresh lemon juice (that's about 6 large lemons)

      Zest if you like more lemony goodness

      Dissolve the sugar in 750ml water and simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest. Allow to cool.

      Add the lemon juice. Put in the fridge until really cold.

      Place the mixture in an icecream maker and churn until it starts to solidify. If you don't have a machine place in a shallow dish and freeze for an hour. Give it a good forking (fnarrr) to mix the ice with the unfrozen goop. Freeze again for another hour, repeat a couple more times until it is completely slushy. Whisk vigorously then freeze. It'll keep for up to a week in the freezer.

      I suspect the cure for cystic fibrosis is somewhat more complex.

    4. Mr. Ed

      No, no contest

      Especially since the cystic fibrosis potion no doubt tastes better than vegetarian sorbet too.

  8. XMAN


    Seems like a pretty big deal.

    Good job !

  9. Peter Murphy


    Good work, Mr. Zhang.

  10. Algernon

    Treatment that could help millions $5,000?

    Bargin. I bet he's really happy with maybe just enough money to insure a car for a year.

    The lab stands to make billions out of it I bet.

    Could have at least awarded him the patent and a percentage if it goes ahead.

    1. peyton?
      Thumb Up

      Not sure how Canadian Universities work...

      But if he wants to go south of the border, he's pretty much guaranteed a free ride at any major research university.

      In other words - this is stellar resume fodder.

      1. E 2

        Which is why

        he will probably go south of the border. IP commercialization in CA universities is pretty crap.

  11. Diogenes

    And then..

    ... I look at the year 11's I teach (sob)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How the world works today:

    Be much smarter than average and develop a drug that can cure millions of people = $5,000

    Drive a car real fast around a track, kick a ball in a net or hit a ball with a stick = $10m pa

    So not only does he get praise for me for being smart and doing some amazing useful work, but he also gains respect for not letting the prospect of getting very little reward for it.

    More like him, and less of the overpaid useless morons please! That would mean starting to set rewards right.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How the world works today

      Or develop a way to make vegetarian sorbet (different from other ways currently out there), slap a catchy name on it, lots of bright happy ads, some washed up celeb sipping it in a mag and get millions from the franchise.

  13. Paul_Murphy

    Well done that man.

    Keep it up - people you have never met will be very grateful.


  14. LinkOfHyrule
    Thumb Up

    Very well done

    Curing cystic fibrosis kicks ass! Nice one!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Errm I think that should read treat not cure

    'That's how the dealers make their money on the come back.'

    Richard Pryor

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If he found a cure...

    ...Then why does the article say that he discovered a -method- that might be used to -help in developing- specific aspects of a cure? That is very far from the attention-grabbing headline's claims.

    Or is it just that the spokesman is understating the discovery as part of a conspiracy to protect the hegemony of the military-medical complex?

    Quick! Get Noam Chomsky and the 9/11 truthers on this!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well done, very impressive but....

    Some pharma-corp will be round his house tonight with an offer he cannot refuse, that's the last well see of the poor sod. He'll get help through college and Uni, then buried in some laboratory back room under a ton of research earning a pittance and making the pharma-corp stadium sized amounts of money on life-saving drugs.

    Hopefully this lad will have enough sense to continue to be an asset and work for the benefit of mankind, however when you get older those bills need paying and a steady wage is very tempting.

    Cynical, moi?!

  18. Graham Jordan

    In Silco

    Average album but The Tempest makes me sex wee.

  19. Cliff


    But I assume he didn't do it for the money. And now we all know his name and think he's a cool guy. The $5000 is a bit of a bonus, but this will always go before him.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    The sad part is.....

    ...that a young boy needs to teach the rest of the scientific community working on this subject how things are done. Good for him. But I weep for humanity. We are in the hands of a bunch of dumb asses.

    I guess that cure for cancer will take a while then.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Usually, young scientists do the most exciting work.

      Also, it doesn't so often make headlines when someone in their fifties discovers a cure for something.

      Both are just the way that it is.

  21. elderlybloke

    I like the Drug Companies

    In my life (now longer than many of my ancestors), I have been thankful on numerous occasions for the drugs/ pharmaceuticals that have saved me from much suffering, and on several occasions from death.

    My wife also has been saved by the use of chemotherapy , so I regard them with kind thoughts.

    Maybe when you get treatment for some nasty infection or disease you will change you rabid opinions.

  22. Ooo-wait-BUT!
    Thumb Up

    I doff my cap at thee squire

    Fekkin EXCELLENT research from one so young.

    Really buggers up my argument that computers are only good for playing games and watchin pron though... dammit.

  23. Bill Fresher


    I wonder what his dad does for a living.... and how much parental involvement there was in his school project.

  24. Chris007
    Thumb Up

    As someone with a son who has CF

    This is great news.

    However it is not a cure but a treatment. Given CF is a genetic condition, the only "cure" would be to have the faulty DNA repaired.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    My fiancé has CF and to hear this news was so uplifting. I am hopeful for the future now. I am truly amazed and thankful for this wonderful kid. Thank you!! I know more research needs to be done and we're probably still years away from making this available to the general public, but this is going to be life changing.

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