Former triathlete wins 2020 GSK Award for Research Excellence

Friday, 04 December, 2020

Former triathlete wins 2020 GSK Award for Research Excellence

Professor Mark Febbraio, a former professional athlete turned medical researcher, has won the GSK Award for Research Excellence for leading the development of a potential new treatment for obesity, type 2 diabetes and muscle mass loss. He is the 40th winner of the prestigious award, which has been presented since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with a focus on human health.

As Head of the Cellular and Molecular Metabolism Laboratory within the Drug Discovery Program at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Prof Febbraio and his team have synthesised a protein called IC7Fc, which has the potential to treat metabolic diseases that are known to be protected by exercise. It does this by improving glucose metabolism and preventing weight gain.

Prof Febbraio — whose research interests stem from his former life as a professional triathlete — and his team are now preparing for Phase 1 clinical trials to determine the application of their discovery in developing a treatment to address currently unmet treatment needs. He said advancing novel treatment options could mean that we could stop, or reverse, the progression of metabolic diseases in the future.

“We’ve discovered how we can leverage the relationship that IC7Fc has with metabolism to address the underlying causes and effects of metabolic diseases,” Prof Febbraio said. “This means our research is moving toward taking this class of drugs into the clinic to deliver the next generation of treatment options.

“COVID-19 has placed an even greater importance on our research. Patients living with diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases continue to be at a higher risk of experiencing severe illness if they contract the virus. The development of a potential new treatment for these diseases will provide hope to those feeling particularly vulnerable in the wake of the pandemic.”

Dr Andrew Weekes, Medical Director of GSK Australia, said Prof Febbraio’s work has the potential to evolve into treatment options for millions of patients globally who might otherwise have limited options.

“Professor Febbraio is an outstanding example of how home-grown innovation and collaboration can potentially impact the lives of patients around the world,” Dr Weekes said. “His innovative research into metabolic diseases is paving the way for new treatment options for some of the world’s most common serious conditions. We are honoured to recognise his achievements.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Prof Febbraio was announced as the winner of the 2020 GSK Award for Research Excellence — along with $80,000 to support his research — through a virtual event held on Facebook Premiere. He said being the 40th winner of the award was a great honour, especially as he joins an esteemed group of Australian medical researchers whose work has been recognised over the last four decades.

“The events of this year have really shined a light on the importance of medical research,” Prof Febbraio said. “Awards like the GSK Award for Research Excellence play a key role in recognising and supporting Australian research. I am proud to be a part of this story that highlights incredible science and innovation.

“In this industry, collaboration is everything. So to my team, colleagues, mentors, industry — know this award is not mine, it’s ours.”

Pictured: Professor Mark Febbraio

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