Previous Winners

2017

Professor Timothy Hughes

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

Professor Timothy Hughes - considered a world-leader in CML research - won the 2017 Award for pioneering the use of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), a therapy now becoming available for many cancers. His team has demonstrated that molecular monitoring of response to TKI therapy enables it to be “customised”, enhancing the chances for each patient to achieve durable remissions, while minimising the risks of drug resistance and disease progression.

CML was once considered a devastating form of blood cancer with less than one in six patients surviving eight years past their diagnosis1. However, the introduction of treatment with TKIs and research into individualising therapy according to response, led by Professor Hughes and his team, has resulted in some patients achieving treatment free cancer remission2.

There are over 2,500 CML patients in Australia currently receiving treatment with TKIs3. Each year, over 300 patients in Australia begin treatment with TKIs for their CML diagnosis3.

Professor Hughes and his team at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute are currently focused on treatment response to optimise disease management and patient outcomes. The $80,000 prize that comes with the GSK Award for Research Excellence will help support a Leukaemia Fellow to work alongside Professor Hughes in furthering research into CML.

The remarkable success of TKI therapy for CML is a great example of effective collaboration between scientists, clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry. The original clinical trials into the first generation of TKIs gave us unique insights into the dynamics of response and the mechanisms of drug resistance. This drove the development of second and third generation TKIs, which have further improved outcomes for patients

Professor Hughes

Close accordion

2016

Professor Patrick Sexton and Professor Arthur Christopoulos

Monash University

Australian researchers exploring “dimmer switch” medicines that could help patients with obesity, diabetes and schizophrenia, have won the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence.

The ground-breaking research by Professors Arthur Christopoulos and Patrick Sexton from Monash University offers hope for people with chronic conditions. According to the researchers, medicines that can be “turned up” or “turned down” rather than “on and off“ will give doctors more variability to tailor treatment to a patient’s medical needs. Medicines based on this principle will allow patients to lead a more normal life without the side effects associated with existing drugs.

Their research into G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) has begun to unravel the complexities of drug action that could lead to more targeted medicines. The “dimmer switch” of a protein, known as the allosteric site, allows the targeted protein to be dialled up or down in a way that was not previously possible.

Both professors were congratulated on winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence at the annual Research Australia Awards in Sydney. The award is well recognised among the Australian medical research community and includes an $80,000 prize that will help the winners progress their work.

“Many medicines have unwanted side effects because they work by simply turning receptors on or off, even though we know that most of these proteins have the potential for more graded levels of response that can become highly relevant in the contexts of tissue specificity, disease and individual patient profiles. We have discovered a more tailored way to exploit this functionality, by targeting regions on the receptors that act more like dimmer switches rather than on/off switches,” said Professor Sexton.

Both professors are world leaders in the study of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), the largest class of drug targets, and the application of analytical pharmacology to understand allosteric modulation. In recent years their work has challenged traditional views of how medicines were thought to work.

Close accordion

2015

James McCluskey and Jamie Rossjohn

Monash University and University of Melbourne

James McCluskey (University of Melbourne) and Jamie Rossjohn (Monash University) have been working in collaboration for 12 years.

Their research is inspired by a mutual interest in how the immune system does, and doesn’t, work.

This relates to how it recognises pathogens (harmful germs) like salmonella and mycobacteria that cause tuberculosis. Their long term quest to understand what these cells do and see, is a great example of curiosity-led science and could impact on our understanding of a range of ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease, peptic ulcers, tuberculosis and lead to better vaccines.

McCluskey and Rossjohn have been studying a group of lymphocytes called Mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. These are found in mucosal sites such as the gut, lungs and the liver. Nobody knows what they do and what it is they recognise in bacteria. These cells are quite prominent and have receptors on their membrane that are the same in all humans.

Close accordion

2014

Professor David Craik

University of Queensland

Professor Craik, a biological chemist from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, discovered the largest known family of circular proteins, called cyclotides, which he is using to develop drug design approaches to treat pain and disease, and insecticides to protect Australian food and fibre crops.

Professor Craik’s groundbreaking research was originally inspired by a Norwegian doctor’s discovery of an African tea for childbirth. “The tea shortened labour,” Professor Craik says, “but at the time they didn’t know why the plant-based medicine worked.”

Twenty years later Professor Craik made his discovery. “It was the unusual circular structure of the molecules. We knew peptides had great potential, but were previously unable to be taken orally as the digestive system would break them down. Our circular peptides are joined from head to tail, which makes them much stronger,” he says. “I did extensive fieldwork in Africa and elsewhere searching for plants with similar circular peptides to understand their structure.”

Close accordion

2013

Professor Ingrid Scheffer

University of Melbourne and Univeristy of Queensland

Professor Ingrid Scheffer received the Award in 2013 for her work helping to transform the diagnosis of epilepsy. 


GSK Medical Director Dr Andrew Yeates says Professor Scheffer’s clinical research has resulted in the identification of several new epilepsy syndromes and has led directly to the discovery of new causative genes. 


“This allows a better understanding of the course of the condition, a targeted approach to therapy, and where appropriate, enables other family members to have genetic testing to understand any implications for themselves,” said Dr Andrew Yeates. 


Professor Scheffer’s collaborative has work led directly to the identification of the first gene for epilepsy in 1995 and since, more than half of the 30 or so known genes.


Much of her work has focused on improving our understanding of some of the most devastating and difficult to treat types of epilepsy – some of which cause children to have frequent debilitating seizures, intellectual impairment, and poor quality of life. 


Making a difference to her patients and their families is the reason Professor Ingrid Scheffer is a clinical researcher. 


“Being able to explain to a mother why her son has epilepsy and intellectual disability, after she has lived through 28 years of concern about what caused the illness is a key motivator for me,” said Professor Scheffer. 


Professor Scheffer studied for 13 years to become a paediatric neurologist followed by three years of her PhD to be trained as a clinical scientist. 


“I had always thought of myself as a doctor, not a scientist and even now I don’t do research in a lab, I do it with patients and my large team of researchers at The Florey Institute and the University of Melbourne.” said Professor Scheffer. 


Professor Scheffer and her colleagues have revolutionised the way the medical world diagnoses epilepsy. This seismic change has only occurred in the last 18 years since discovering the first epilepsy gene. 


She says, “Research has allowed us to find a cause. That is huge but it is only the beginning of the journey.”

Close accordion

2012

Professor Chris Goodnow

Australian National Univeristy


Professor Goodnow was awarded the $80,000 grant to further develop his world-leading research on the cause of autoimmune diseases – something still unknown in most people affected by these disorders. 


With funding from the grant Goodnow is now testing a controversial theory - that autoimmune disorders are a form of benign cancer - and has the potential to lead to more effective treatments and preventions for the millions who struggle or are at risk of these diseases globally. 


“It’s a high risk and high returns approach – testing a theory for autoimmune disease that’s somewhat controversial. Some people really love it, but some people really hate it. That’s a good sign; no one finds it boring.” Professor Goodnow said. 


During his 30 years of research, he has improved our understanding of how the immune system decides what is a person’s body and what is an invading microbe that should be attacked. In patients with an autoimmune disorder, the immune system can't tell the difference between healthy body tissue and microbes. Professor Goodnow has also identified genes and pathways involved in these decisions. 


On receiving the award, Professor Goodnow spoke about how funding from the grant will enable his research team to use a new technology, known as Massively Parallel Sequencing , to test his controversial hypothesis – that autoimmune diseases are a form of benign lymphoma cancer. 


“It is an honour and a very exciting time to be recognised for my work. While there is still a long way to go in this area, this award has come at a very exciting stage of our research, and will help take us to the next level,” Professor Goodnow said. 


“Without the grant from this award, the process to apply for funding to use the Massively Parallel Sequencing technology would potentially halt our research for years, delaying our understanding of autoimmune diseases and discovery of new treatments. 


Although his hypothesis that autoimmunity is a benign form of lymphoma cancer is controversial, Professor Goodnow believes that he is on the right track. Further, his hero and major influence, Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet arrived at the same theory back in 1972.

Close accordion

2011

Professor Kathryn North

University of Sydney, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research & Melboure Sydney Medical School

Professor Kathryn North, Douglas Burrows Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Sydney and Head of the Institute for Neuroscience and Muscle Research at the Kids Research Institute, The Children's Hospital Westmead, has today been presented with the GlaxoSmithKline Australia Award for Research Excellence.

The Award, which comes with a Grant of $80,000 (up from $60,000 in 2010), recognises Prof North's body of work as a translational research scientist which includes a world-first discovery of a common genetic mutation that influences muscle function and performance, ACTN3. Now known as 'the gene for speed', Prof North's discovery has been replicated by researchers around the world and all have shown that no Olympic sprint athlete is deficient in ACTN3.

While seemingly poles apart, her research into the way muscles work in elite athletes has informed her research and clinical treatment of muscular disease, and vice versa. She is widely recognised as a world-leader in inherited neurological disorders in children, an area in which she says great things are within our grasp.

 “Some of these genetic disorders in children, such as muscular dystrophy and neurofibromatosis, were previously thought to be incurable. I believe this is an area in which, in my lifetime, we will see major developments in treatments if not cures,” she said.

GSK Medical Director Dr Camilla Chong confirmed that neuromuscular disorders such as muscular dystrophy result insignificant disability from muscle weakness and often cause early death from respiratory failure.

 “Neuromuscular disorders constitute one of the major causes of ongoing disability in childhood. Prof North's research has not only significantly advanced our understanding of these disorders but has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of patients through better diagnosis and disease management,” she said.

Selected by an independent panel of senior members of the Australian scientific and clinical community, Prof North is being presented with the $80,000 Award at an event in Melbourne this evening. The Award is one of Australia's most prestigious and longest-running, celebrating the best Australian scientists and their achievements in advancing our understanding of human health.

 “At GSK we are very proud of this Award. Over the last 31 years, it has recognised and rewarded excellence in scientific achievement and in addressing critical unmet medical needs. With the increased financial component this year, we hope that the Award, and Prof North's achievements, will inspire many other scientists and clinicians in Australia to continue their research to improve human health,” Dr Chong said.

On receiving the Award, Prof North commented: “I feel like I've won the Gold Logie for medical research! It's such an honour, not just for me but for my entire research team. It's a wonderful recognition of what we do,” she said.

GlaxoSmithKline – one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies – is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. For further information please visit www.gsk.com.au.

GSK Award for Research Excellence – is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian research community. The annual Award, and the accompanying Grant of $80,000, recognises outstanding achievements in medical research and facilitates career development with potential importance to human health and Australian research.

Close accordion

2010

Professor Charles Mackay

Monash Univerity

Monash University Professor of Immunology Charles Mackay has been awarded the 30th annual GlaxoSmithKline Australia Award for Research Excellence for research which found a possible a link between diet and inflammatory diseases such as asthma.

Selected by a panel of senior members of the Australian scientific community, often including past award recipients, Professor Mackay was presented with the $60,000 peer-based award at an event in Melbourne last night.

The award is one of Australia’s most prestigious and longest-running medical research awards celebrating the best scientists and their work in Australia with potential to improving human health.

A world expert in immunology and inflammation, Professor Mackay discovered a molecule called GPR43 which may act as a mechanism linking diet to inflammatory diseases such as asthma, which is on the rise in western societies.

GSK Medical Director Dr Camilla Chong said the award was designed to foster scientific skills and nurture Australian ideas in the quest for new and improved medicines.

“We hope this award will draw attention to the excellent work that has been done by Professor Mackay …and that it can translate into something with actual clinical benefits,” Dr Chong said.

According to Professor Mackay, his findings may challenge the theory that asthma was linked to hygiene and cleanliness not found in developing countries, which have a lower incidence of asthma and other inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, autoimmune disease and heart disease.

As a result, diet may be taken seriously by the medical community as a trigger for inflammatory responses and could lead to junk food being treated like nicotine in the future, Professor Mackay said.

 “I see diet as a looming health issue whereby there may need to be intervention by governments, similar to what has been done for cigarette smoking,” he said.

 “We’ve known about the health effects of bad diet in respect to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and maybe we can add to that list asthma and type 2 diabetes.

“Improving the immune system and inflammatory diseases could be as simple as changing our diet.”

Winning the award was not only an honour but will raise the profile of his research around the world, enabling it to continue and contribute to improving health, Professor Mackay said.

“The benefits of this award will be great. I think it’s visionary of GSK to recognise that this is an important area of research,” he said.

Close accordion