University of Sydney researchers have been honoured with an unprecedented three scientific research and innovation awards out of five at the 2021 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, including the two major awards, the Prize for Science, received by Professor Eddie Holmes, and the Prize for Innovation, received by Professor Tony Weiss.
Professor Holmes has been recognised for his transformative role in the scientific response to COVID-19 and Professor Weiss has been recognised for his pioneering research and commercialisation of synthetic tropoelastin biomaterials, which can accelerate and improve the repair of human tissue.
Associate Professor Michael Bowen has been awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for New Innovators for his discovery and development of KNX100, a novel molecule that is being commercialised to treat addiction and other disorders of the brain and mind.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, Professor Mark Scott, said: “I heartily congratulate all three outstanding scientists on their richly deserved success as recipients of these top scientific and research innovation prizes.
“Eddie has been indefatigable in his work to understand viral evolution and his expertise has been indispensable during the COVID pandemic. Tony is a shining example of deep scientific work delivering life-changing, practical solutions in healthcare and it’s wonderful to see Michael recognised so early in his career for his approach to innovation.
“This is a tremendous honour for them all, but also a fantastic achievement for our University. It shows that universities are invaluable public assets that deliver time and again for the Australian public and the world at large.
“The University community is extremely proud of this result.”
Professor Holmes has been awarded the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his transformative role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with international collaborators at Fudan University in Shanghai, Professor Holmes was the first person to publicly share the entire genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
That act on 10 January 2020 marked the start of the global scientific fightback against the pandemic and it allowed for the rapid development of COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.
Professor Holmes is a recognised leader in the study of viral evolution. As well as his work on coronaviruses, he has pioneered the study of how viruses evolve and jump between species, including to humans, to spread and cause disease. His work has laid the foundations for the study of virus evolution, ecology and emergence.
Using genome sequence data, he has helped determine the origin and spread of major human and animal pathogens, including hepatitis C, HIV, influenza, West Nile, dengue, Zika and Ebola.
Professor Holmes said: “It’s an amazing privilege to receive the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. This is a tribute to a large network of scientists in Australia and all over the world who have worked so hard to understand how viruses evolve and emerge to cause disease.
“COVID-19 won’t be the last pandemic and it is crucial that we build an even stronger research network in this area. I give special thanks to the University of Sydney for its unwavering support.”
Professor Holmes hopes his award focuses attention on the need to develop global systems to prevent the outbreak and spread of future zoonotic diseases. Central to this will be the need to improve global academic collaboration and for scientists and medical authorities to share information with speed and transparency.
Professor Holmes works in the Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases and the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney. He also holds a joint position with the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Medicine and Health.
He is the incumbent NSW Scientist of the Year, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow.
2021 Prime Minister's Prize for Science
Professor Tony Weiss has received the 2021 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation, recognising his pioneering research and commercialisation of synthetic tropoelastin-based biomaterials, which can accelerate and improve the repair of human tissue.
Professor Weiss is considered the world’s leading authority on tropoelastin, the protein building-block that gives human tissue its elasticity. For the past two decades, he has pioneered global research into tropoelastin and elastic fibres, which are found in human tissue ranging from the skin to the lungs and arteries.
In 2008, he founded the company Elastagen to commercialise his research and inventions. The company raised $35 million in venture capital and grant funding, completed clinical trials and scaled-up production. Ten years later, Elastagen was sold to AbbVie, one of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies for $334 million – one of the largest transactions ever completed in Australia’s life science sector.
Professor Weiss said: “I am absolutely thrilled to receive Australia’s most prestigious award for research-based innovation. I am delighted that the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science chose to celebrate the amazing commercial translation of my lab’s exciting research. Biomedical technologies like ours are so important – they help and transform society.”
Professor Weiss remains in a scientific advisory role with AbbVie, expanding the intellectual property portfolio for tropoelastin applications. His inventions have generated an incredible 163 granted patents in 21 patent families around the world.
He is also regarded as an ambassador for Australian innovation and has given his time to mentor Australian researchers. He offers insight on every aspect of science commercialisation, inspiring Australian investors and incubators to support the next generation of life science technologies.
Professor Weiss AM is the McCaughey Chair in Biochemistry and NHMRC Leadership Fellow in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and is a researcher at the Charles Perkins Centre.
2021 Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation
Associate Professor Bowen has received the Prize for New Innovators in the 2021 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. He has been instrumental in driving scientific discoveries relating to serious brain disorders that lack effective treatments.
His research has been critical in the discovery and development of KNX100, a novel molecule that has considerable potential to treat addiction and other disorders of the brain and mind. KNX100 is now being developed to treat opioid-use disorder, which kills more people in Australia each year than car accidents. There are currently no new compounds in clinical development for opioid-use disorder.
Associate Professor Bowen said: “It’s a great honour to be the recipient of the 2021 Prize for New Innovators. It makes me proud of everything the team has achieved working on this project through its various phases over the years. This is also an important testament to the University of Sydney's dedication to research impact and commercialisation.”
KNX100 is being commercialised by Kinoxis Therapeutics, a company he co-founded in 2018. Associate Professor Bowen leads the company’s scientific program as the Chief Scientific Officer. Kinoxis Therapeutics has attracted more than $10 million in funding and, under Associate Professor Bowen’s scientific leadership, the company’s valuation has increased by more than 20-fold since 2018.
Associate Professor Bowen’s work is a demonstration of the innovation and all-round impact that can be achieved through research partnerships between universities, industry and government. The first human clinical trial for KNX100 is scheduled to commence in early 2022 and will be run in Australia.
Associate Professor Bowen holds a position at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology.
2021 Prime Minister's Prize for New Innovators