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17 Oct 2019

Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation - Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Four members of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research are recipients of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation at this year’s Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Associate Professor Peter Czabotar, Professor David Huang, Professor Guillaume Lessene and Professor Andrew Roberts, Chair of the VCCC Cancer Research Advisory Committee were recognised for their role in the development of venetoclax, a breakthrough anti-cancer drug based on a landmark discovery made at the Institute in the 1980s. The drug was discovered and developed in a partnership with Genentech and AbbVie. 

Venetoclax is now available as treatment for thousands of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in Australia and around the world. The drug binds to and inhibits the protein BCL-2, which was shown in the 1980s to inhibit cell death and contribute to cancer development. 

The team’s efforts enabled the drug to be developed in a remarkably short time, taking less than seven years from discovery to its first regulatory approval.

Professor Andrew Roberts said, “The biggest impact of venetoclax in 2019 is for the hundreds of patients in Australia with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia who have had considerable benefit from having access to this new drug. This really is a triumph of basic science and basic science discoveries moving rapidly through a process to generate a product that's significantly beneficial for many people”.  

The award recognises the team collaborated brilliantly to achieve the world-first innovation, drawing upon their individual expertise in biology, drug discovery, pre-clinical testing and clinical trials, to provide the leadership required to bring this breakthrough cancer drug to the world.

Professor Doug Hilton, VCCC Board Director and Director Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, congratulated the team and reinforced that, "This is elegant demonstration of the power of multi-disciplinary teams, each team member applied their beautifully complementary skill sets to make step-wise discoveries key to the development of the ground-breaking new drug venetoclax”.