With advances in biotechnology and the success of protein-based drug development, more and more researchers are exploring very interesting but complex molecules. This is what motivates and excites WEHI alumna Dr Donmienne Leung, a self-described ‘drug hunter’ with diverse experience in preclinical drug discovery who is currently the Head of Protein Engineering at Absolute Antibody, a contract research company in Redcar, UK.
Commencing in the position in September 2021, Donmienne’s role is to review each project prior to production and serve as a key contact for sophisticated customers across academia, biotech, diagnostics, and the pharmaceutical industry. She offers technical advice and helps devise cutting-edge protein engineering solutions for a wide variety of complex biomedical problems.
Donmienne describes how she is passionate about drug discovery research and finding new medicines to treat the un-met needs of patients.
“I love to collaborate on novel ideas with scientists around the world to help enable their research with innovative molecules.”
Graduating with her bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry from the University of Melbourne, Donmienne worked at WEHI for a year as a RA in the neurobiology lab under Dr Graham Barrett and Professor Perry Bartlett.
It was at WEHI where she fell in love with research and gained valuable experience at the bench before doing her Honours and then going on to complete her PhD in the synthesis and evaluation of protease inhibitors at the University of Queensland in Professor David Fairlie’s lab.
Donmienne recalled that the first thing she had to learn in the lab was dorsal root ganglion dissections.
“The cell-bodies were so tiny that we had to dissect them floating in media under the microscope. I had to hold my breath so that I could capture them into my pipette. It wasn’t easy but it just needed lots of practice. In the end, it was absolutely gratifying that we published the research in Neuroscience, which was the very first journal article for me as a co-author in my career.”
In 2001, Donmienne packed up her life in Australia and moved to San Diego, US to pursue postdoctoral training at the Scripps Institute under Professor Ben Cravatt, before joining the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company in 2005, to help facilitate the establishment of the antibody discovery and engineering platform, which became the biotechnology engine for Lilly in San Diego.
In her spare time, Donmienne loves to travel, hike and explore the world.
“My love of adventure has brought me from Australia to the United States for my postdoc, and now to England,” she said. “I like to immerse myself in something new and different every now and then, so I can exercise the other side of my brain.”
“I admire people that are empathetic and kind to others, people that aren’t selfish. I also admire people that believe strongly in and pursue their passion, notably in the arts and in science.”