New Drug Discovery Initiative focused on innovative therapies

10 September 2018
University of Sydney's strategic investment brings a coordinated approach to drug discovery.

The University of Sydney today launched a new effort to drive a coordinated approach to drug discovery.

The new Drug Discovery Initiative (DDI) unites researchers, clinicians and industry to develop promising drugs and delivery methods to improve human health.

The DDI will focus initially on the University’s strengths in five areas, concentrating on early stages of the drug discovery pipeline – infectious diseases, cancer therapies, inflammation, neurodegenerative and central nervous system disorders, and metabolic diseases.

"The Drug Discovery Initiative is a strategic investment by the University in an area that can translate to innovative therapies,"
Professor Michael Kassiou.
portrait of Professor Michael Kassiou

Academic Director of the Drug Discovery Initiative Professor Michael Kassiou

“It will act as a focal point to direct external and internal engagement associated with a significant hub of relevant research activity, to ensure opportunities aren’t missed,” he said.

To that end, the DDI will create linkages across the University in disciplines aligned with drug discovery research and education, build awareness and strengthen the reputation of the University’s drug discovery capability and capacity across industry, government and academic sectors positioning the University as a recognised leader. 

“The DDI will ensure that cutting-edge infrastructure for drug discovery is available through Sydney Analytical facilities and support researchers through seed funding for collaborative projects,” says Professor Kassiou.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison confirmed that, “drug development, diagnostics, and biomedical research in general is a major area of investment for the University over the next five to six years.”

Drivers for drug discovery by scholars, clinicians and industry are often different, according to Dr Phil Kearney, Director of Licensing & External Research for Merck Sharp & Dohme Australia.

“There are clearly different drivers in industry and academic research,” said Dr Kearney. “We should accept that and revel in it by seeing where the overlaps occur.”

“Researchers are good at target identification, screening, diagnostics and positioning, and are often concerned with publication as a primary output.”

“Researchers are important to industry for their area expertise. We use a surprisingly high number of Australian experts to advise us on our drug developments.”

Commercialising research

The University of Sydney's commercialisation performance is impressive: it has been granted 1100 patents, produced 1200 inventions in the last 20 years, licensed 158 licensed patent families and spun-off 21 successful start-up companies in the past decade.

For example, it can point to major commercialisation and consulting successes in health and medicine, aviation, robotics and automation, renewable energy, laser imaging, and plant breeding.

In June 2017, its multidisciplinary Charles Perkins Centre announced a world-first air travel health and wellbeing partnership with Qantas to reshape its customers' experience of long haul flights. Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the partnership has the potential to transform journeys for passengers on routes planned for its Boeing 787 Dreamliner that will commence later this year.

The University of Sydney also has major research and commercialisation ventures with companies like Microsoft, Rio Tinto, GE Healthcare, Sirtex, Allegra Orthopaedics, and Elastagen, which makes an injectable synthetic protein (tropoelastin) with applications in wound repair, scar remodelling, and surgical glues and implants.

Founded by the University of Sydney’s Professor Tony Weiss, the company has won $4 million from the NSW Government’s Medical Devices Fund – its second funding success with the NSW government – and in 2015 Wellcome Trust invested $1 million in Elastagen to fast-track its technology to clinical trials within two years. The company has also raised $13 million in a Series B financing.

These are the types of commercial outcomes the DDI hopes to achieve.

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