Australian researcher uncovering keys to malaria elimination receives major research award

Professor Brendan Crabb wins 2019 GSK Award for Research Excellence
“There is probably no more impactful contribution to human development than ridding the world of malaria,” says winner

An Australian scientist leading the charge to find the next generation treatments and vaccines for malaria, has won the prestigious 2019 GSK Award for Research Excellence.

Professor Brendan Crabb AC – Director and CEO of Burnet Institute – has won the award for his research to better understand the DNA of the malaria parasite. His work has transformed how scientists explore malaria prevention and treatments globally.

Professor Crabb was involved in the technical breakthrough of DNA ‘transfection’ of the malaria parasite. Transfection is a powerful tool that enables scientists to manipulate the genome of the malaria parasite. By tweaking the parasite’s DNA, scientists can discover which mutations are responsible for drug resistance and what parts can be targeted by new medicines and vaccines.

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death and disease burden globally. It was responsible for over 430, 000 deaths in 20171 and 1,200 children die every day of the disease2.

“Malaria is one of the most important health problems humans have ever faced. The scale is unimaginable with around 3.2 billion people at risk of the disease3,” said Professor Crabb.

“While malaria most significantly impacts the world’s poorest countries near the equator, this has a flow-on effect for Australia. Countries like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are our neighbours, trading partners and popular travel destinations. We need to work collaboratively to help these countries deal with the burden of malaria. It will improve their health and drive greater security and prosperity for all,” he said. 

According to Professor Crabb, advancing research at all levels is critical to combatting malaria, as the parasite evolves to develop drug resistance.

“The work of Professor Crabb is testament to the impact home-grown research and innovation can have on a global scale,” said Dr Andrew Weekes, Medical Director, GSK Australia. “We are honoured to recognise and support research enabling further discoveries and better outcomes for people suffering from global health inequities.”

The award was presented to Professor Crabb at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards 2019 in Melbourne. Dr Weekes said GSK is proud to be supporting Australian researchers with this award, now in its 39th year.

Professor Crabb said that winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence highlights the power of collaboration and having greater recognition of Australian research.

“Everything I’ve achieved has been done as part of a team. This award also recognises the efforts of my colleagues, teams, industry and patients. I am honoured to have received this award – especially as it draws attention to the fact that many of our human brothers and sisters still suffer enormously from malaria,” said Professor Crabb.

The GSK Award for Research Excellence is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian medical research community. It has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with potential importance to human health.

Among the previous recipients of the GSK Award for Research Excellence are some of Australia’s most noted scientific researchers, including Professor Tony Basten (1980), Professor Nicos Nicola (1993), and Professor Kathryn North (2011). The 2018 GSK Award for Research Excellence was awarded to Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer from the Melanoma Institute of Australia for research that has tripled the life expectancy for some advanced melanoma patients and transformed how the cancer is diagnosed and managed.

ENDS

 

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This media release has been issued by Palin Communications on behalf of GSK

 

GSK –GSK is a science-led global healthcare company with a special purpose: to help people do more, feel better, live longer. For further information please visit https://au.gsk.com

GSK invested over $7 billion in research and development globally in 2018, focusing on science related to the immune system, human genetics and advanced technologies. We work closely with leading local researchers and clinicians to ensure that Australian patients can access the latest global innovations, as they happen. We are committed to clinical data transparency and making our study results public, regardless of whether they reflect positively or negatively on our products.

GSK’s commitment to malaria

GSK supports the WHO target to cut malaria cases and deaths by 90% by 2030 and believes that with renewed global commitment from all stakeholders working together, this goal can be met. We are building on our 40-year commitment of partnering to fight malaria in the lab and on the ground, these activities include:  

-       After more than 30 years of research and over $1 billion in development, we are closer than ever to bringing the world’s first malaria vaccine – RTS,S – to young children in Africa. Following one of the biggest trials of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa and the positive scientific opinion of the European Medicines Agency in 2015, WHO-coordinated pilot programs for the vaccine are now underway in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya. GSK has donated up to 10 million doses of the vaccine for the pilot programs. At the same time, we are continuing our clinical trials program to find a next-generation malaria vaccine.

-       Development of treatment for P. vivax malaria – in partnership with Medicine for Malaria Ventures.

-       Dedicated research and development facilities in Tres Cantos, Spain that are shared with international malaria researchers.

-       Sharing their own compounds and data with scientists to help advance the pace of research progress in malaria.

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References

  1. Burnet Institute 2019, Eliminate Malaria. Available at https://burnet.edu.au/programs/32_eliminate_malaria (Accessed October 2019)
  2. UNICEF 2025, Fact sheet Malaria kills 1,200 children a day: UNICEF. Available at https://www.unicef.org/media/media_81674.html (Accessed October 2019)
  3. Burnet Institute 2019, Eliminate Malaria. Available at https://burnet.edu.au/programs/32_eliminate_malaria (Accessed October 2019)