2017 Clunies Ross Entrepreneur of the Year Award - Professor Andrew Wilks FTSE
CLUNIES ROSS ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR AWARD 2017 25 YEARS BUILDING A BLOOD CANCER DRUG Professor Andrew Wilks FTSE Professor Andrew Wilks FTSE has made key contributions to the development of a successful new drug for the treatment of haematological malignancies such as Idiopathic Myelofibrobrosis, a highly malignant condition caused by the inappropriate activation of JAK2, a cellular enzyme he discovered in 1989. The story spans nearly 30 years, from his discovery of this important cellular enzyme, through to the design and development in 2005 of a new drug, known as Momelotinib, that has recently successfully completed Phase 3 trials to treat patients with this and other diseases. Professor Wilks, now co-founder and Executive Chairman of the SYNthesis med chem Group, has completed a rare “trifecta” – discovering and patenting a number of important drug discovery targets (JAK1 and JAK2); founding and raising funds for the establishment of one of Australia’s most successful biotech company, Cytopia (later merged into Canada's YM BioSciences and ultimately sold to Gilead Sciences); and co-inventing and leading the team that delivered Momelotinib. In 1997 he gave up a well-funded and high-profile academic career at the Ludwig Institute to start Cytopia and mortgaged his house on at least two occasions to “keep the dream alive”. The ultimate success of the science, however, is demonstrably the result of the devout application of he and his collaborators/co-workers to the development of this drug. Professor Wilks’ fundamental research and the resulting new therapeutic drugs should have a profound impact on the lives of more than 100,000 patients worldwide. It demonstrates a seamless path of discovery and invention, and a prime example of the translation and commercialisation of an important Australian scientific discovery. From academic scientist to entrepreneur, Professor Wilks was the linchpin and main driver of the delivery of the JAK Project. The experience has clearly lit a fuse within that has led him to establish a further eleven biotech companies over the last ten years. With most of his activities firmly grounded here in Australia; alongside his partners and co-founders, he has established companies with operations in China, the USA, and Europe.