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What’s Happening in May

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Focus on Iain Watson

Interviewed by Christine Fong

Playing in a community orchestra is a wonderful thing! We get to play great music, we work with many different types of amazingly talented performers, and we even get to hear applause from time to time. But the best thing about playing with CBSO is the people.

This month, I had a chat with French Horn player Iain Watson.

CF: Hi Iain! How did you get your start at CBSO?
IW: The first time I played with CBSO was May 2011, when the orchestra was performing Mahler Symphony No 5. There are six horn parts in this piece instead of the usual four, so two additional players were required. I was lucky to get to play the horn 5 part and very much enjoyed playing with the orchestra. Since then, I have been called to play with the orchestra a few times a year –whenever an extra horn player is needed. CBSO is a fun orchestra and I have learned a lot from the other performers.

CF: I remember that concert. In our online rehearsals this month we had a chance to revisit Mahler 5. It brought back a lot of happy memories. And there are plenty of challenges for French Horn in that piece!
When did you start playing the French Horn?
IW: I started playing horn in Grade 7. Most of my classmates wanted to play saxophone, trumpet or drums. At the time I was the only one in the French Horn section and there were about 8saxophones in the band. In concert band the horn part is usually doubled by the much louder saxophone, meaning my part was always covered. The first time I played in an orchestra was terrifying as suddenly I realized everyone could hear clearly whenever I played a wrong note!

CF: I am very familiar with that feeling! Even so, playing with an orchestra is great especially on concert weekends when we all get to sit around and chat during the dinner break. It was during one of those dinner breaks that I discovered that you are a scientist! What is your official title?
IW: I am currently a Senior Scientist in the Drug Discovery Group at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR). I have a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto and performed Post-Doctoral research in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley.

CF: To someone like me, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research sounds like another world! It is incredibly important work. What types of things do you work on at the institute?
IW: I am a medicinal chemist in the Drug Discovery group. I work exclusively in oncology and work on small molecule therapeutics. I don’t work on psychedelics, genetic therapies, antibodies or vaccine development.

CF: What would a typical day at the office be like for you? Do you spend a lot of time in the lab with microscopes and bubbling concoctions in test tubes o rdo you spend time at a computer?
IW: I have my own fume hood and rotary evaporator (pictured below).
A rotary evaporator collects volatile solvents under vacuum leaving the
dissolved residue in the original flask. They also look and sound very “science-y” and frequently appear in the background of Hollywood lab scenes!  When I am performing a synthesis, I will do a couple of reactions a day on average. The compounds synthesized in the lab are completely novel and most have never been made before in any lab on Earth. These compounds are purified, characterized, and tested in suites of biological assays to determine if they have the appropriate properties to become a drug. Drug discovery research groups make thousands and thousands of compounds in our search for new medicines.

I also have an office and a computer and these days I spend approximately half my time doing experiments and the other half at my computer. However, my office has a glass wall that connects with the lab, so I am never far away!

CF: Have you been working on exciting breakthroughs or new ideas for Cancer treatment?
IW: Unfortunately, most of what I have worked on is still unpublished or confidential in some way. Our lab has signed a couple of large deals with pharmaceutical companies to further develop compounds in blood cancers and these are still in development. In lieu of showing some of my projects, I have included the structure of remdesivir (see illustration below),one of the small molecule stars of the last year. Remdesivir is an anti-viral that was originally synthesized by a medicinal chemist at Gilead for a hepatitis C project, then was studied for Ebola and finally re-purposed forCOVID-19.

CF: That is so cool!!! I can just imagine you beavering away at your rotary evaporator all day. Playing in CBSO is a good way to get away from that focus and use your brain for other challenges. That is something many of us in CBSO can appreciate.
One more question, Iain: Do you get to wear a white lab coat with you rname embroidered on the pocket?
IW: We all have a lab coat as well as safety glasses and gloves, and these are required as a safety protocol to enter the lab area. Unfortunately, I don’t have my name embroidered but I do have a name tag pin.

CF: Iain, this has been so interesting and informative. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today!

Your Support is Greatly Appreciated!

We want to reassure our CBSO patrons and community that our CBSO Board and administrators are meeting weekly and working hard to make sure that we will be able to bring music to you in Scarborough and beyond.  Thankfully our government has not forgotten about the Arts, so there are opportunities out there.  Even so, we need your help to keep things running so that we can open up again in the near future. 

To all of our dear patrons:  please consider making a donation this month in order to help us continue to be able to bring quality music to your community!

The orchestra is a registered non-profit charitable organization and provides tax receipts for donations of any amount (Charity # 89036 4573 RR0001). 

Thank you for your support!

Click on the logo below to be redirected to the orchestra’s Canada Helps page, where you can make a one-time or recurring donation via credit card.