Two Australian scientists secure CSL Centenary Fellowships


Two Australian scientists have been awarded CSL Centenary Fellowships of $1.25 million over five years to undertake research that will improve our response to pandemics and potentially lead to new cancer treatments.

The Fellowships were presented at the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences Annual Meeting 2021 on Wednesday 27 October.

Associate Professor Daniel Watterson, at The University of Queensland, will use his fellowship to identify and manufacture anti-viral antibodies and deliver them to patients using mRNA.

He is one of the inventors of the molecular clamp technology that holds a virus spike protein in its original form so it can generate an immune response in a vaccine. It was used to develop a potential Australian COVID-19 vaccine last year and is now being refined with a view to reducing vaccine development time to a few months.

Associate Professor Watterson believes molecular clamps can also enable the rapid development of anti-viral drugs.

Dr Stephin Vervoort will use his CSL Centenary Fellowship to unravel steps in DNA transcription and use that knowledge to identify possible small molecule drugs that could target acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and other cancers.

He is working to solve mysteries in the processes that enable the production of proteins from genes. The enzyme RNA polymerase II plays a critical role in transcribing DNA into mRNA. When this molecular machine makes mistakes, the consequences in humans can be profound and include, for example, the development of poor-prognosis cancers.

Dr Vervoort is based in Melbourne at WEHI and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“Associate Professor Watterson and Dr Vervoort will both be generating fundamental knowledge that could transform how we fight disease,” said CSL chief scientific officer Dr Andrew Nash.

“Our collective requirement for a rapid, worldwide response to COVID-19 has shown what medical research can achieve. It’s also shown that we have much to learn. Daniel and Stephin are both advancing fundamental human knowledge, but with potential practical applications for future pandemics and for cancer,” he said.

“It is this long-term purpose that the CSL Centenary Fellowships aim to support, by providing funding stability for leading mid-career Australian researchers and delivering on our promise to foster a thriving medical research community.”