Scientist, educator and entrepreneur Dr Erol Harvey has made outstanding contributions to Australia through the world-leading microfluidic engineering company MiniFAB, his distinguished academic career and his unwavering support for research commercialisation and entrepreneurship.
In 2002, he co-founded the export-oriented business MiniFAB, which is now a world-leading provider of custom-designed and manufactured microfluidic and medical devices. Capable of rapid prototyping and product commercialisation, MiniFAB delivers custom solutions into diverse markets, including medical devices, diagnostics, food packaging and aerospace.
Its client base includes multinational companies, venture capital-funded start-ups, international medical device companies, and university spin-offs from around the world.
He also formed the Small Technologies Cluster, an incubator supporting researcher access to MiniFAB’s facilities and providing dedicated infrastructure to accelerate the commercialisation of new high-value medical device technology.
In 2011, MiniFAB was awarded the inaugural “Enabling Technology Company of the Year”. In recognition of his achievements, Dr Harvey was named Enabling Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame.
Dr Harvey has been committed to the commercial and scientific development of micro and nano technologies for 30 years. For this service, he was elected a Fellow of ATSE in 2006 and is a frequently invited to speak at events on innovation, commercialisation and university-industry collaboration.
Dr Harvey worked as an engineer in Oxford, UK, after gaining a PhD in Plasma and Laser Physics from Monash University. He returned to Australia in 1999 to become a Professor of Microtechnology at Swinburne University – a position he held for more than a decade.
He has also served on a number of committees, including the Micro and Nano Technology Commercialisation and Education Foundation and the Australian Federal Government’s Future Manufacturing Industry Innovation Council.
Professor David Huang and collaborators Associate Professor Peter Czabotar, Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene and Professor Andrew Roberts are recognised for their role in the development of a novel, potent anti-cancer drug called venetoclax.
The drug, discovered in collaboration with Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and AbbVie, was recently approved for use in the US, Europe and Australia to treat certain forms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).
Derived from a basic research discovery in the late 1980s at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the team’s findings helped to solve a problem that eluded international research efforts: inhibiting a family of pro-survival proteins called BCL-2.
The solution involved expertise from each collaborator: Professor Huang led research unravelling the basic biology of the protein family; Associate Professors Lessene and Professor Czabotar focused on drug design and discovery; and Professor Roberts led translational and clinical research to establish its effectiveness in patients. They demonstrated that BCL-2 inhibitors had the potential to be exploited as an anti-cancer treatment.
Pioneering clinical trials of venetoclax began in Australia in 2011 and saw outstanding results for patients. Some 79 per cent of people involved in two early phase clinical trials reported in 2016 had a promising result to the treatment. Both studies saw remissions in patients with advanced CLL for whom conventional treatment options had been exhausted.
The social impacts of this drug will be enduring, benefiting patients and the health system and fuelling further investment and employment in the research sector – basic and translational.
In July 2017, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research completed a landmark deal, selling a part of its royalty rights in venetoclax for up to $US325 million. A portion of this income is being used to enhance and accelerate the discovery of new medicines, ensuring more cutting-edge medical research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute can be translated.
The drug is now undergoing clinical trials to test its effectiveness in treating other types of cancer, with the hope it will benefit more patients in the future.