The Real Talent Around Lumina

News - 04 Oct 2021

Dr Chris Davis General Manager, Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University, Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct
Chair, Ausbiotech Ltd (Queensland Branch) Deputy Chair, Regional Development Australia Gold Coast

Dr Chris Davis and his successful work on commercialising new drugs and vaccines

As General Manager of one of Australia’s flagship multidisciplinary biomedical research institutes, Dr Chris Davis is tasked with leading a commercial team dedicated to fighting diseases of global impact.

Lumina talked to Dr Chris about his passion for seeing pioneering research translate into new medicines, vaccines and diagnostic technologies that are changing lives across the world.

Chris’s passion for translational or ‘bench to bedside’ research underpins his role as General Manager at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics. He is proud of being able to work alongside some of Australia’s best scientists to translate basic science into new drug and vaccine technologies and develop them through the necessary clinical trials and into the market, where they could potentially save millions of lives.

“Glycomics is the study of sugar language in our body. Every cell in our body is decorated with sugars that come together to create powerful structures called ‘glycans,’ which our cells use to send and receive messages that are essential for our health and wellbeing.”

Diseases like cancers and infectious diseases can take advantage of glycans in our body. For example, deadly pathogens like bacteria, parasites and viruses can use glycans in our body to attach to, invade and overwhelm our body with infection, leading to major health problems and potentially death. Researchers, at the Institute for Glycomics, study the role sugars play in diseases and use their knowledge to treat, prevent or diagnose cancer and infectious diseases.

The Institute for Glycomics strive to be one of the leaders in researching and developing the next generation drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics to treat diseases of global impact. Dr. Chris stated that their focus is on finding cures for infectious viruses, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, and the main point of difference of the institute is its unique focus on ‘glyco’ and its integrated approach combining translational research and commercialisation.

Discovering new possibilities

Dr Chris Davis holds an honours degree and PhD in synthetic medicinal chemistry from Griffith University. Dr Chris has worked for different companies including a biotechnology start-up company developing drugs he co-invented during his PhD, and a commercialisation company where he worked on licence and partnership deals with international pharmaceutical companies and raising venture capital to support the development of drugs and vaccines. In 2009, he returned to Griffith University to take up his current position as General Manager of Institute for Glycomics.

“In the early days of the Institute, there were a handful of people working in shared laboratories. Now we have more than 200 multidisciplinary researchers and a dedicated team of business and operations professionals working tirelessly to fight diseases of global impact, like COVID-19, parainfluenza, sepsis, malaria, viral-induced arthritis and cancer. In 2021, the Institute for Glycomics is proudly celebrating 21 years”

‘New’ breakthroughs, 21 years in the making

The success stories that have attracted recent headlines include a new drug to cure the Human parainfluenza virus (hPIV), a global killer causing severe upper and lower respiratory illness in millions of people every year for which there is currently no specific drug treatment. Chris led the multimillion-dollar agreement negotiations between Griffith University and China Grand Pharma to co-develop and commercialise the new drug candidate.

In an earlier deal, Dr Chris negotiated an exclusive licence agreement between Griffith University and Australian listed company Paradigm Biopharmaceuticals to develop and commercialise the world’s first specific drug for viral induced arthritis caused by mosquito-borne infections, like Ross River virus and Chikungunya virus. The technology was invented in 2016 by Dr Lara Herrero, an Institute for Glycomics early career researcher at the time. The deal has enabled the new drug candidate to progress through Phase 2 human clinical trials with impressive results. Dr Chris is positive and stated the new medicine is now available to patients by Paradigm Biopharma, through selected GPs under the TGAs Special Access Scheme.

In addition, Dr Chris has worked for many years alongside Professor Michael Good AO and Dr Danielle Stanisic on a new malaria vaccine that has the potential to eradicate the disease worldwide. “More than 500,000 people die of malaria each year mostly in Africa – a preventable and treatable disease”. The Institute is currently working on human trials for a novel vaccine that can be freeze-dried, making it easier to distribute in malaria-endemic areas where the cost and logistical challenges of cold storage are the main obstacles.

Praise for Lumina

According to Dr Chris, the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct’s (the Precinct) collective ability to provide a perfect innovation ecosystem comprising research, clinical and commercial expertise and capability is what will facilitate the success in the next phase of the Precinct’s development.

“I’ve seen the Institute grow over the years. We have leading-edge research and commercialisation, and the co-location with the hospitals, and other HealthTech companies will enable us a full clinical and commercial integration”.

“Lumina is offering the brilliant opportunity to house technology companies – in Biotechnology, HealthTech, MedTech and Allied Health– alongside great infrastructure that supports clinical development and commercialisation. That means we can deliver every aspect, from technology discovery and development through to licencing and delivery, right here in this Precinct. This makes us unique, not only in the Gold Coast and Queensland, but in Australia as well.”

Who would Chris like to see located at Lumina? A venture capital office, a branch of a multinational and a solid mix of growth-phase technology companies lead his wish list of potential Precinct neighbours.

“The Gold Coast is a smart city, and we are developing a lot of talent and creating major job opportunities for a skilled workforce in the medical and technologies space, which will crystallise as the Precinct develops. Lumina offers a great ecosystem and inspires companies to join, and other technologies to come on board.”

The Institute for Glycomics has expansion plans and it is projected to grow in 450 people in the next several years. Dr Chris is convinced that the Precinct will provide the infrastructure and investment to support and fast track that growth.

“Lumina is growing the Precinct sustainably by progressing new public and private developments to support the industry lifecycle that exists here. We’ve got great science, outstanding clinical expertise and a quickly maturing entrepreneurial environment that will place the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct as a national leader in health innovation.”