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Four QIMR Berghofer scientists awarded prestigious Fellowships

The fight against COVID-19, cancer and other diseases has been boosted with four leading Queensland scientists each receiving a prestigious national Fellowship.

The four QIMR Berghofer scientists will receive up to $250,000 each with the REDI Fellowship Program to partner with industry to turn their ground-breaking research into reality.

Professor Sudha Rao will be working with artificial intelligence business, Max Kelsen, to develop a blood test that uses AI to predict a person’s risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

“The goal is to show the level of protection an individual has against COVID-19 so that those most at risk can be quickly identified and offered targeted treatment options,” Professor Rao said.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to work with biologists, physicists, mathematicians and computational biologists to improve the outcomes for people with COVID-19,” she said.

Max Kelsen’s Head of Research, Dr Maciej Trzaskowski, said the collaboration with Professor Rao promises to shed light on the relationship between invader viruses and their human hosts in unprecedented ways.

“This is a pioneering example of how industry and academia can collaborate using AI to solve complex biological problems in a timeframe which would be impossible without AI.”

Associate Professor Kate Gartlan will collaborate with global biotech leader, CSL, to develop new treatments to improve outcomes for blood cancer patients who require stem cell transplants.

“Blood cancer patients who undergo stem cell transplantation often suffer very serious complications, but this partnership with CSL will develop our research findings into targeted therapies to reduce the risks associated with the procedure,” Associate Professor Gartlan said.

Associate Professor Michelle Hill will spend 12 months with precision microbiome company, Microba Life Sciences, to drive the discovery and development of therapies to improve cancer immunotherapy outcomes and further advance Microba’s therapeutics program for inflammatory bowel disease through the development of clinical biomarkers.

“We will execute a program to discover new adjuvant therapies to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapies and develop companion tests to indicate which patients will likely benefit from the combination treatment. This Fellowship will fast track this program for improving cancer patient outcomes,” Associate Professor Hill said.

Microba Life Sciences Chief Scientific Officer Associate Professor Lutz Krause said, “We’re thrilled to have Associate Professor Michelle Hill join us with her expertise in biomarker discovery to advance Microba’s impact on improving patient outcomes in chronic diseases.”

Associate Professor Jason Lee will be embedded with a team of investment managers at IP Group Australia to assess opportunities from across top research institutions and collaborate in creating and supporting a portfolio of spin-out companies.

“I hope to increase my commercialisation knowledge and in turn provide scientific expertise to investment managers, bringing together science and industry,” Associate Professor Lee said.

Dr Siro Perez, Head of Life Sciences at IP Group Australia, says they are delighted to welcome Jason to IP Group Australia as a fellow under the REDI Fellowship Program.

“Jason’s extensive expertise within the field of cancer epigenetics and transcriptional regulation will make a valuable contribution in creating and supporting university spin-out companies. We would like to thank the MTPConnect and the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for funding and facilitating this important program.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO Professor Fabienne Mackay said the REDI Fellowship is an outstanding Federal Government initiative.

“We are very proud of the work our scientists are doing in COVID-19, cancer research and commercialisation. I want to congratulate all four recipients on this prestigious REDI Fellowship.

“Industry partnerships are so important to be able to take our discoveries from bench to bedside. The Fellowship will help accelerate the Institute’s research to deliver the best outcomes for patients,” she said.

The REDI Fellowship Program is part of MTPConnect’s $32 million Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) initiative, funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The REDI Fellowship program provides financial support to companies in the medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals (MTP) sector to bring researchers, clinicians and MTP professionals in-house for up to twelve months to work on priority medical research projects.