Revolutionary 20-year study wins $80,000 award

6 Nov 2014

Translating nature’s secrets into new drug solutions for pain and cancer has helped a Queensland scientist win an $80,000 research excellence award.

The University of Queensland’s Professor David Craik was awarded the 34th GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence at last night’s Research Australia Awards dinner in Sydney.

Professor Craik, a biological chemist with UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, discovered the largest known family of circular proteins in plants, called cyclotides.

“Proteins are the building blocks of life, and normal proteins form linear chains, leaving their head and tail ends vulnerable to be chewed up by enzymes in the body,” Professor Craik said.

“Our work these past two decades has been to help finish nature’s unfinished business by finding ways to chemically tie up the loose ends of proteins and make them into stronger, circular versions of themselves with improved potency.”

Professor Craik’s “designer” cyclotides can be used to develop new drugs that can be taken orally, with reduced side-effects.

“While protein-based drugs, such as insulin, make up many successful drugs on the market, they’re not orally available and need to be injected,” he said.

“Circular proteins make better oral drugs because their internal structure prevents them from being chewed up by enzymes in the digestive system, allowing them to be absorbed into the body where they can achieve their desired effect.”

Professor Craik said the potential applications of circular proteins were far-reaching in the agricultural and pharmaceutical markets.

“My team has been working on using cone snail venom as a pain-relief drug 100-times more potent than morphine,” he said.

“We are also producing peptide-based drug leads in edible plant seeds which could be used to treat chronic diseases and give developing countries access to produce vital medicines at relatively low cost.

“Human trials are still a few years off, but winning this prestigious award is an absolute honour and helps bring us closer to our goals.”

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Anton Middelberg congratulated Professor Craik on his award.

“David’s 20-year research in this field has revolutionised drug design and unlocked new treatment possibilities for cancer, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis,” he said.

“Great research takes time, and funding like this goes a long way in supporting the dedicated teams that will translate these discoveries into outcomes of benefit to our community.”

Professor Craik, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences, last month received the prestigious Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research for his significant contributions to peptide science.

In a further show of support for his promising research, Professor Craik recently received $2.8 million from the NHMRC’s October funding round, and $659,000 from the ARC’s November funding round.

Media: IMB Communications Manager Gemma Ward, +61 7 3346 2134 or 0439 651 107,