A team of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers have been recognised for their role in the development of a new anti-cancer medicine, receiving the 2018 Clunies Ross Knowledge Commercialisation Award from the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).
Professor David Huang, Associate Professor Peter Czabotar, Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene and Professor Andrew Roberts received the award for their roles in the development of the anti-cancer agent venetoclax, which involved a collaboration with the companies Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and AbbVie.
VENCLEXTA (zenetoclax) is a medicine that is now approved for clinical use in Australia, North America and Europe for the treatment of people with certain advanced forms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). CLL the most common type of leukaemia diagnosed in Australia. It is not yet funded through the PBS.
The development of venetoclax has its foundation in a research discovery at the Institute in the 1980s, that a protein called BCL-2 can make cancer cells immortal by preventing a form of programmed cell death called apoptosis.
Professor David Huang, whose research has investigated cell death since the 1990s, said the team had a long-term goal of developing a new anti-cancer treatment that killed cancer cells by inhibiting BCL-2.
“Venetoclax was the first drug of this kind to be approved for regular use in the clinic,” he said.
“It has been thrilling to work with our team and our industry partners to see the translation of our laboratory research to clinical benefit. We are honoured to receive the Clunies Ross Award from ATSE.”
According to Professor Andrew Roberts, who is the Head of Clinical Translation at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and a clinical haematologist, clinical trials of venetoclax demonstrated its benefit as a treatment for people with certain forms of CLL who had no other treatment options.
“It was exciting and rewarding to be part of the journey that saw a fundamental research discovery developed to benefit patients,” said Professor Roberts.
“The initial clinical trials of venetoclax took place at sites including the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Peter Mac, which meant that Australian patients were the first in the world to benefit from Australian innovation.”