Spencer Williams awarded David Syme Research Prize

March 15 / 153

Professor Spencer Williams, winner of the 2015 David Syme Research Prize
Professor Spencer Williams, winner of the 2015 David Syme Research Prize


Associate Professor Spencer Williams has been awarded the annual David Syme Research Prize for his ground-breaking research to develop a new drug for the treatment of kidney disease.


The prize, which has been awarded annually since 1906, is for the best original research in biology, physics, chemistry or geology, produced in Australia during the preceding two years.


Dr Williams, from the School of Chemistry and Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, said it is a great honour to receive the award.


"The David Syme Prize is an Australia-wide prize with a distinguished list of previous recipients. In this case it showcases the successful translation of innovative new drugs first made in my laboratory to a major commercial partner who will pursue the complex clinical human trials necessary to bring the drugs to market." 


In 2006, Dr Williams began working with Professor Darren Kelly from the Department of Medicine, University of Melbourne and St Vincent’s Hospital on a new class of drug for fibrosis. Fibrosis is an excess of fibrous connective tissue and is the underlying cause of chronic kidney disease, chronic heart failure, pulmonary (lung) fibrosis and other diseases that combined are the cause of approximately 45 per cent of deaths in the developed world.


The new drug, named FT011, was chosen as the best candidate from more than 150 different compounds that were synthesised in Dr Williams’ lab. 


"It is a long and challenging process discovering and developing new drugs. The work was initiated in my lab in 2006 and built upon a decade of ground-breaking biology by my collaborators. An important breakthrough has been demonstrating the safety profile of the lead candidate, enabling its progression into advanced human clinical trials."


In the past two years, the drug has been through Phase 1a and Phase 1b clinical trials to determine its safety in humans. It will soon enter Phase 2 clinical trials to assess its effectiveness in treating chronic kidney disease, which is a major cause of death and disability in diabetes sufferers.


Last year, the company set up to commercialise FT011, Fibrotech Ltd, was bought by global pharmaceutical company Shire Plc for US$75 million.


"We were delighted that Shire Plc saw the value in FT011. They are a sophisticated drug company with the right expertise to shepherd our candidate through the complexities of human trials and drug registration. We hope that the FT011 development program is successful and will deliver tangible benefits to sufferers of a wide range of fibrotic disorders."


Professor Karen Day, Dean of the University of Melbourne Faculty of Science, who administer the prize, said Dr Williams demonstrated precisely the kind of exceptional talent the David Syme Prize was designed to recognise and reward.


“Spencer is a passionate scientist with a knack for developing innovative approaches to solving real world problems. This work highlights how skills in synthetic organic chemistry can be used to develop new drugs that may change the way the world treats kidney disease. It’s great fundamental science, with terrific potential for global impact.”  


Previous winners of the David Syme Research Prize include Professor Suzanne Cory, immediate past president of the Australian Academy of Sciences, and Professor Brendan Crabb, Director of the Burnet Institute.



By Daryl Holland

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