US FDA approval achieved for an Australian cancer drug invented by Honorary Enterprise Professor Andrew Wilks in the 1990’s
Oncologist and cancer cell biologist Andrew Wilks from the Dept of Biochemistry and Pharmacology led the team that invented momelotinib, a drug used to treat the rare bone marrow cancer myelofibrosis, which has recently been approved in broad blood cancer use by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
The FDA approval of Momelotinib was covered by The Age Newspaper and highlights great Australian science research and its impact on patient outcomes.
“How long’s that, 35 years? I was young and lovely when I started this thing”, Andrew told The Age. Andrew Wilks discovered the janus kinases, a dysfunction in a group of proteins, in Melbourne, in 1989.
Although he sold the patent to momelotinib in 2008, and the drug has since passed through a few companies until it was bought by GSK last year, the FDA approval now highlights the drug’s billion-dollar global potential.
Momelotinib’s story was also a lesson for Australian science about the importance of commercialising discoveries and actually taking drugs from the lab to the patients.
For reference, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration only approves about 40 new drugs each year.
Professor Andrew Wilks is an accomplished academic scientist who worked at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research between 1983 and 1997 and made transformative discoveries in the signal transduction field, as well as in neurogenesis and angiogenesis.
His work has included discovering and patenting this important drug discovery, among others, that target the Janus Kinases, and he founded one of Australia’s most successful biotech companies, Cytopia.
He is highly regarded in the global pharmaceutical industry and has founded and co-founded 11 companies. He is the Executive Chairman at SYNthesis med chem, CEO at SYNthesis Research, CEO at Catalyst Tx at Bio21, was recently named a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and is an Honorary Melbourne Enterprise Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmachology, in the School of Biomedical Sciences.