January 14, 2019

$25 million to bridge a vital gap in Australian drug discovery

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has today announced $25 million in funding to enhance Australia’s drug discovery capabilities at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s new Drug Discovery Centre. 

This significant investment is helping to overcome a challenge in Australian drug discovery by enabling the translation of world-class Australian biomedical research into lifesaving medicines for patients.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announces funding to establish the Drug Discovery Centre at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
(Photo courtesy Brendan Rowswell)

The funding builds upon the Institute’s own $32.1 million investment in the Centre, as well as generous philanthropic and state government support.

Bridging a vital gap in Australian drug discovery

The Institute’s Drug Discovery Centre will offer the latest robotic equipment and expertise to researchers, so they can undertake ultra-high throughput chemical screening. This is a critical step in the drug discovery pipeline that allows researchers to identify the exact chemical compounds needed to develop medicines that treat disease.

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton thanked the federal government for recognising the importance of a Drug Discovery Centre for the whole Australian medical research sector that fills a vital gap in our drug discovery pipeline.

3D render of drug discovery tool
A 3D render of an ultra-high throughput screening
platform currently being installed in the Drug Discovery Centre

“In a landmark move for Australian medical research, the Institute has established a Drug Discovery Centre so that researchers in Australia can screen and pinpoint the exact chemical compounds needed to progress their basic research discoveries into new medicines.

“For many years the translation of world-class Australian research into new medicines has been hampered by a lack of capacity for drug development. This meant that many promising research discoveries were either never pursued, or researchers were forced overseas to develop their research into new therapies,” Professor Hilton said.

Increased capacity for developing new medicines

The Institute’s head of new medicines and diagnostics Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene said the injection of federal government funding would triple the Centre’s screening capacity over the next two years.

“The additional funding means we are now able to recruit additional highly skilled scientists and open the Centre up to the Australian medical research sector from June 2019,” he said.

Executive director of Children’s Cancer Institute Michelle Haber said a nationally-accessible Drug Discovery Centre would increase the probability of developing lifesaving medicines.

“The Drug Discovery Centre is a great example of how as a nation we can excel in health and medical research on the international stage.  The Centre’s accessibility to the whole sector will serve to increase Australia’s capacity for drug discovery, bringing hope to patients in Australia and around the world,” she said.

Proven track-record for translation

The Institute’s own contribution to the establishment of the new centre has come from philanthropic and state government support, as well as $32.1 million from the sale of royalty rights for venetoclax, an anti-cancer treatment based on a landmark research discovery made at the Institute in the 1980s. 

Professor Hilton said the Institute had a proven track-record for translating its research into health outcomes for patients.

“Venetoclax is a leading example of how patients can benefit from the translation of basic research discoveries made in Australia. While that medicine took 30 years to reach patients, we hope that our commitment to building a centre that enhances Australia’s capacity for translating basic biomedical research will serve to accelerate the process of drug discovery bringing future medicines to patients faster.”

An important investment

Minister Hunt said the $25 million contribution from the Coalition Government would help the innovative centre save lives.

“Our investment in this important Drug Discovery Centre will help researchers develop news drugs to treat both common and rare diseases and improve the quality of life of many Australians,” Mr Hunt said.

“Our Government’s contribution to this significant centre is through our landmark Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF is an endowment fund, which will mature at $20 billion, providing a sustainable source of funding for vital medical research. It is the single largest boost in health and medical research funding in Australia’s history.”

The latest innovative technology

Thermo Scientific has been engaged to take the Institute’s small molecule screening capabilities and capacity to the next level. The Drug Discovery Centre has collaboratively designed three, highly flexible, expandable, ultra-high throughput screening platforms with Thermo Scientific that are currently being installed in the new centre.

Article courtesy of our proud precinct partner Walter & Eliza Hall website.

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