Professor Andrew Roberts and Professor John Seymour
25 October 2018
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Two leading cancer researchers who are having an impact on the way Australia’s most common form of leukaemia is treated have been awarded the $50,000 Victoria Prize for Life Sciences.

Professor Andrew Roberts, Clinical Haematologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Peter Mac) and Researcher at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and Professor John Seymour, Director of Haematology at RMH and Peter Mac, were honoured in recognition of their pioneering research that enabled a basic discovery made at WEHI in Melbourne 30 years ago to be transformed into a breakthrough new anti-cancer drug, venetoclax, for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

“We are both honoured to receive this award. Undoubtedly, venetoclax is having an impact worldwide on thousands of patients, particularly those with CLL, where the drug is now approved for standard use in many countries,” Professor Roberts said.

Professor Seymour said that this award is also a testament to the innovative and ground-breaking collaborations that occur across the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.

“The collaboration here has been absolutely critical. The multiple skills of the preclinical scientists, the clinician scientists who are able to translate the research, and the teams being able to then develop a protocol that is applicable in patients– it’s a collaborative effort that involves many people and many teams,” Prof Seymour said.

Venetoclax was developed based on a landmark discovery made in Melbourne during the late 1980s by WEHI scientists, that a protein called BCL-2 promoted cancer cell survival. Professor Roberts and colleagues found that venetoclax selectively targets BCL-2, essentially causing cancerous cells to melt away.

Together Professors Roberts and Seymour led the very first clinical trial of venetoclax in 2011 and several key trials that followed. Now, venetoclax is approved all around the world for routine use in some patients with CLL and there are more than 100 clinical trials underway around the world using this drug alone or in combinations for various blood cancers.

CLL is the most common form of leukaemia in Australia, with around 1000 people diagnosed with the cancer every year.

Congratulations to Professor Roberts and Professor Seymour and all members of the teams involved on this remarkable achievement.

Watch this video to learn more about venetoclax and the research led by Professors Andrew Roberts and John Seymour.

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