GSK Award for Research Excellence 2015

Applications are now open for the GSK Award for Research Excellence 2015, a longstanding and prestigious award which supports outstanding Australian research in the area of human medical health.

As an innovation-focussed company, GSK places high value on medical research. The award, with its accompanying grant of $80,000, has played a part in assisting some of Australia’s most important leaders and innovators in the medical research sphere. Its focus is on helping support career development with an emphasis on human health and Australian research.

The winner of the 2014 award was Professor David Craik, a biological chemist from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Professor Craik’s research has 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.

Plants with peptide-based drugs in their seeds and leaves, and pain relief from cone snail venom are two of the innovative applications from his research. 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.”

Professor Craik went on to develop the chemistry for making ‘designer’ cyclotides, which can be used to develop new drugs with improved oral availability with few side effects. “My team has been working on using cone snail venom as a pain relief drug 100 times more potent than morphine,” he says. “We are also producing peptide-based drug leads for chronic diseases in edible plant seeds, which we hope will give developing countries access to produce vital medicines at relatively low cost.”

“Human trials are still a few years off, but winning a prestigious award such as this helps us raise awareness of the exciting developments happening in our lab and brings us closer to our goals.”

Further information about the awards –