CSL Centenary Fellowships to fund antiviral, cancer research

Friday, 29 October, 2021

CSL Centenary Fellowships to fund antiviral, cancer research

Australian scientists Associate Professor Daniel Watterson and Dr Stephin Vervoort have each been awarded CSL Centenary Fellowships of $1.25 million over five years, to undertake research that will transform our response to pandemics and lead to new cancer treatments respectively.

The fellowships are competitively selected, high-value grants available to mid-career Australians who wish to continue a career in medical research in Australia. They are open to medical researchers working on discovery or translational research with a focus on rare/serious diseases, immunology or inflammation and are overseen by a selection committee comprising three independent members and two CSL representatives.

Two individual fellowships, each totalling $1.25 million over five years, are awarded each calendar year. The 2022 fellowships were presented at the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences Annual Meeting 2021 on 27 October.

Assoc Prof Watterson, from The University of Queensland (UQ), is one of the inventors of the molecular clamp technology that holds a virus spike protein in its original form so it can generate an immune response in a vaccine. Assoc Prof Watterson believes molecular clamps can also enable rapid development of antiviral drugs; he will thus use his CSL Centenary Fellowship to identify and manufacture antiviral antibodies and deliver them to patients.

“We’ll be able to repurpose the molecular clamp to identify antiviral antibodies, make them in the equivalent form found when the body responds to a completely novel viral threat, and deliver them to patients using mRNA,” he said.

Dr Vervoort, who will join the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) as a laboratory head in 2022, will use his fellowship to unravel fundamental steps in DNA transcription and use that knowledge to target acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and other hard-to-treat cancers. The enzyme RNA polymerase II plays a critical role in transcribing DNA into mRNA; when this molecular machine makes mistakes, the consequences in humans can include the development of poor-prognosis cancers.

“I want to understand how RNA polymerase II works and how it is dysregulated in cancer,” Dr Vervoort said. “I want to use that knowledge to identify novel drug targets and ultimately find small-molecule drugs that could be used to treat AML and other cancers.”

“Daniel and Stephin are both advancing fundamental human knowledge, but with potential practical applications for future pandemics and for cancer,” said CSL Chief Scientific Officer Dr Andrew Nash.

“It is this long-term purpose that the CSL Centenary Fellowships aim to support, by providing funding stability for leading mid-career Australian researchers and delivering on our promise to foster a thriving medical research community.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/vege

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