Professor David Huang and collaborators Associate Professor Peter Czabotar, Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene, and Professor Andrew Roberts, are recognised for their role in the development of a novel, potent anti-cancer drug called venetoclax.
The drug, discovered in collaboration with Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and AbbVie, was recently approved for use in the US, Europe and Australia to treat certain forms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).
Derived from a basic research discovery in the late 1980s at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the team’s findings helped to solve a problem that eluded international research efforts: inhibiting a family of pro-survival proteins called BCL-2.
The solution involved expertise from each collaborator: Professor Huang led research unravelling the basic biology of the protein family; Associate Professors Lessene and Professor Czabotar focused on drug design and discovery; and Professor Roberts led translational and clinical research to establish its effectiveness in patients. They demonstrated that BCL-2 inhibitors had the potential to be exploited as an anti-cancer treatment.
Pioneering clinical trials of venetoclax began in Australia in 2011 and saw outstanding results for patients. Some 79 per cent of people involved in two early phase clinical trials reported in 2016 had a promising result to the treatment. Both studies saw remissions in patients with advanced CLL for whom conventional treatment options had been exhausted.
The social impacts of this drug will be enduring, benefiting patients and the health system and fuelling further investment and employment in the research sector – basic and translational.
In July 2017, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research completed a landmark deal, selling a part of its royalty rights in venetoclax for up to $US325 million. A portion of this income is being used to enhance and accelerate the discovery of new medicines, ensuring more cutting-edge medical research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute can be translated.
The drug is now undergoing clinical trials to test its effectiveness in treating other types of cancer, and has just been made available through the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The Centre for Transformative Innovation, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Convergence Science Network and the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship invite you to this lecture followed by networking drinks at Swinburne University of Technology.
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