Clunies Ross Entrepreneur of the Year
Professor Andrew Wilks FTSE
Professor Andrew Wilks has made key contributions to the development of a successful new drug for the treatment of haematological malignancies such as idiopathic myelofibrobrosis, a highly malignant condition caused by the inappropriate activation of JAK2, a cellular enzyme Wilks discovered in 1989.
The story spans 25 years, from Wilks’ discovery of this important cellular enzyme, through to the design and development in 2005 of a new drug, CYT387 (now known as Momelotinib) by a team led by Wilks, that is now being used to treat patients with this and other diseases.
It is a seamless path of discovery and invention, and a prime example of an Australian scientific discovery (viz the discovery of the JAK family of tyrosine kinases by Wilks while at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Melbourne) through to its ultimate commercialisation.
In this process, Wilks had many roles. He was the academic scientist who discovered the molecular target and published the paper naming the family of related enzymes. Wilks and his team subsequently characterised the role of these proteins in the intracellular signaling of the hematopoietic and the immune systems.
Wilks continued as an inventor/co-inventor of a brace of new applications of the JAK-related technology, publishing a number of patents relating to these proteins and to small molecule inhibitors of the enzymatic activity of these proteins.
Finally, Wilks is an entrepreneur. In 1997, he left the Ludwig Institute and founded (and was CSO and CEO of) the Australian biotech company, Cytopia, wherein all of the drug discovery and early clinical phase research was done.
The continuity of impactful contributions, from discovery of JAK2, through to the development of the drug, and its final successful clinical testing, represents an achievement of similar magnitude to that realised in a number of other Australian success stories, such as Relenza and GM-CSF. At every stage, Wilks was the linchpin and main driver of the delivery of the JAK Project from discovery to early clinical development.
With respect to “going the extra mile”, there is plenty of evidence for this in the usual trials and tribulations of starting a biotechnology company and developing a new drug. In 1997 Wilks gave up a well-funded and high-profile academic career at the Ludwig Institute to start Cytopia, and mortgaged his house on at least two occasions to “keep the dream alive”.
The ultimate success of the science, however, is demonstrably the result of the devout application of Wilks and his collaborators/co-workers to the development of this drug. This has been a 25-year struggle, comprised in equal parts, of both soaring highs and crushing lows, to the ultimately successful development of Momelotinib, an important new drug for the treatment of idiopathic myleofibrosis and pancreatic cancer.
Clunies Ross Knowledge Commercialisation Award
Mr Darryn Smart
From 2007–12, 14 ADF personnel were killed by IEDs – over a third of all casualties in Afghanistan during that period. The number of injured personnel is estimated to be much higher.
The risks associated with IEDs and a lack of protection also hinders operational movement of military personnel. Over seven years, Mr Smart and his team have designed, developed and produced devices to protect personnel and equipment from radio-activated IEDs. His research addressed three challenges.
In 2010, Mr Smart’s team began a design and development program for a personal force protection electronic counter measure (FPECM) to protect soldiers against IEDs. Previously, one large FPECM device was carried by a soldier to protect the group within a defined area. Mr Smart’s team developed the world’s first effective personal protection device that was light enough to be worn by each soldier.
He developed and tested the technology, collaborating with the then Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) and Australian businesses to commercialise. By mid-2011, 1100 units were supplied to the ADF and Australia became the first Coalition partner able to protect their soldiers in this way and enhance their freedom of movement. A further 1000 units were sold to US troops in 2012. No ADF personnel have died from radio-activated IEDs since 2012.
In 2012, Mr Smart was challenged to develop devices that were effective against an IED class but could be used by partner countries with limited FPECM capability, without fear of exploitation by hostile forces. The devices had to be simple to use, cheap and quick to manufacture.
He and his team used their deep understanding of signal processing and systems engineering to develop a fit-for-purpose product. Two devices were developed: Greengum, a compact personal protection unit; and Greygum, a unit to protect light vehicles.
Australian industry production began late-2014 and 105,000 units were sold and delivered to Afghanistan Security Forces in June 2015, with another 55,000 units in 2016. These units are used by Afghani army and police personnel operating in the danger areas.
In 2013, a threat emerged in operational theatres for which the ADF had no existing countermeasures. The existing protection system, fitted to vehicles, was provided by a supplier from a Coalition partner country but was unable to address this threat. The ADF either had to purchase new equipment or modify the existing system.
Mr Smart led a rapid development and testing phase for a countermeasure technique – a new device and new software – which integrated with the existing system and effectively protected troops.
He built 20 units in-house for immediate deployment within three weeks. He then oversaw, with DMO, the manufacture and testing of another 30 units over three months. This extraordinary effort effectively protected ADF personnel 1-2 years earlier than if a new system had been purchased and saved the ADF $5 milliion, with ongoing savings of $1-2 million a year.
Clunies Ross Innovation Award
Professor Mike Xie FTSE
Professor Mike Xie developed the widely used evolutionary structural optimisation (ESO) and bi-directional evolutionary structural optimisation (BESO) methods. The ESO/BESO technique was inspired by naturally occurring structures such as bones, shells and trees which acquired excellent properties through an evolutionary process of “survival of the fittest”.
The original ESO technique, first proposed by Professor Xie’s team in 1992, was based on the simple concept of gradually removing inefficient material from a structure so that the resulting shape would evolve towards the optimum. A more robust technique known as BESO, which was introduced by Professor Xie’s team a few years later, allows material to be removed and added simultaneously by redistributing the under-utilised material to the most needed locations.
Among many other applications, the ESO/BESO technique can be used to significantly reduce the weight and the associated energy consumption of motor vehicles and aircraft and to produce strikingly elegant designs of bridges and buildings.
Since the inception of ESO/BESO in the early 1990s, Professor Xie has worked tirelessly on the continuous improvement and practical applications of the technique. He is recognised globally as the most important contributor to the original development and subsequent world-wide adoption of the ESO/BESO technology.
His first paper on ESO, published in 1993, has attracted over 1200 citations by researchers and practitioners in diverse fields including engineering, architecture, biomedicine and materials science. Professor Xie has also produced two books (one published by Springer-Verlag in 1997 and the other by John Wiley in 2010) which have facilitated the widespread adoption of ESO/BESO.
Over the past 12 years, Professor Xie led a team at RMIT to develop a sophisticated software package called BESO3D. This computer code has been used by a large number of engineering/architectural firms and research institutions around the world including Bollinger und Grohmann Ingenieure (Germany), Studio Vitone & Associati (Italy), Kraft-Vaerk Architects (Denmark), BVN Architecture (Australia), University of Manchester (UK), Chalmers University (Sweden), Tsinghua University (China), Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), University of Oulu (Finland) and Harvard Graduate School of Design (USA).
Currently there are 343 registered licences of the BESO3D software in 47 countries. The software has been used to design a wide range of efficient structures and novel products.
By integrating the ESO/BESO technique with the 3D printing technology, Professor Xie has invented and fabricated a series of metamaterials with unusual mechanical properties including negative Poisson’s ratio and negative linear compressibility. Several patent applications have been lodged, including a PCT international patent application which has now entered the National Phase in USA, European Union, India and China.