Florey Medal for gene therapy innovator

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The 2017 CSL Florey Medal has been awarded to Professor Elizabeth Rakoczy for her work in the development of a process that turns eye cells into bio-factories.

The gene therapy, which treats wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), uses a modified virus to carry a gene into cells in the eye, replacing the need for frequent and painful eye injections.

Professor Rakoczy, who first showed genes could carry a healthy replacement for a mutated gene that causes degeneration of the eye’s retina, led the world’s first human gene therapy trial.

More than 112,000 Australians have wet AMD, the most devastating form of AMD, and up to 8,000 more commence treatment for it each year. Each injection of the current treatment costs about $2,000 and patients have six to eight per year. 

The CSL Florey Medal has been presented every two years since 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS). The award recognises a lifetime of achievement in biomedical science and human health advancement. It carries a cash prize of $50,000 and has been supported by CSL since 2007.

“Professor Rakoczy is a quiet achiever, a world leader in gene therapy, and a key contributor to advancing international eye research,” said CSL’s chief scientist, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson. “CSL is proud to support this award which recognises excellence in research as well as creating role models for the next generation of medical researchers. Gene and cell therapies hold the potential to significantly reduce vision loss over a patient’s lifetime which is why work in this field is so important.”

“In winning the CSL Florey Medal, Professor Rakoczy joins an elite group of Australian medical researchers who have followed in the footsteps of Howard Florey,” said AIPS director Camille Thomson. “To quote Sir Robert Menzies, ‘In terms of world wellbeing, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia’.”

Professor Elizabeth Rakoczy is the founding director of the Department of Molecular Ophthalmology at Lions Eye Institute, University of Western Australia.