New way of tackling infectious diseases wins creativity prize

10 September 2015
Dr Marc Pellegrini and Dr Greg Ebert
Dr Marc Pellegrini (left) and Dr Greg Ebert
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute senior postdoctoral fellow Dr Greg Ebert has today been awarded the Centenary Institute’s Lawrence Creative Prize 2015 for his role in developing a new approach to treating infectious diseases.

The Lawrence Creative Prize is awarded to early career researchers in Australia and decided by an international jury of distinguished scientists. The prize celebrates bold young medical researchers who are taking risks to ask and answer the big questions in health.

Dr Ebert is recognised for the innovation and creativity in his scientific approach to tackling chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Rather than targeting the virus directly, Dr Ebert’s approach eradicates infection by promoting the death of infected cells.

Through the discovery and development of a new therapy, Dr Ebert was able to kill HBV-infected liver cells by initiating a self-destruct signal to the host cells. “The clinical stage drug ‘birinapant’ causes HBV-infected liver cells to essentially commit suicide, but it does not harm uninfected cells,” he said. Birinapant is a drug originally developed by US biotech company TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer. “We realised that the mechanism by which the drug works could be translated for the treatment of infectious diseases too,” Dr Ebert said.

Dr Marc Pellegrini, clinician scientist and Infection and Immunity Division Head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said preclinical studies showed that the altruistic death of HBV-infected cells removed the reservoir of infection and eliminated the virus. “This is something that has never been achieved before,” Dr Pellegrini said.

The results of the research were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in April. Clinical development of birinapant will progress under a collaboration agreement with TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals. Updates for trial delivery can be found at the TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals website.

Dr Ebert, along with Dr Pellegrini’s lab, is now working on translating this breakthrough to the treatment of other overwhelming chronic infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.

Further information

Arunee Wilson
Communications Officer
P: +61 3 9345 2719
M: +61 478 714 757
E: wilson.a@wehi.edu.au

Dr Greg Ebert is also the winner of the 2014 Bupa Health Foundation Emerging Health Researcher Award, and was part of a team that last month won the 2015 Australian Infectious Disease Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.


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