Victoria scientist wins Supreme Award

Victoria University of Wellington chemist Professor Richard Furneaux's combination of scientific nous and entrepreneurial spirit has won him the BNZ Supreme Award in the 2017 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards.

Richard Furneaux

Professor Furneaux, Director of Victoria’s Ferrier Research Institute, was presented with the award for overall excellence in all core areas of research commercialisation at a ceremony in Auckland.

He also took home the Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award, which recognises a researcher who has made outstanding contributions to business innovation or has created innovative businesses in New Zealand through technology licencing, start-up creation or by providing expertise to support business innovation.

Professor Furneaux has been recognised for entrepreneurial endeavours that have generated tens of millions of dollars of economic activity for New Zealand over the past 25 years.

Starting out as a synthetic chemist, today Professor Furneaux leads a team of 40 scientists at the Ferrier Institute, whose innovative medical drug compounds have been licensed to international pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies, and an exciting new start-up.  

The judges described Professor Furneaux as “a world class research entrepreneur”, and his story as “one of enormous achievement”.  

“It’s a real honour to receive these awards for myself and our talented team of scientists and collaborators,” says Professor Furneaux. “Also, a big shout out to the commercial partners who successfully applied our science.”

The Institute’s most successful commercial deal, in conjunction with Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is its 16-year relationship with United States-based, NASDAQ-listed company BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Under this licensing deal, four generations of novel compounds, covered by over 160 granted patents, have yielded six lead drug candidates with applications as diverse as cancer, gout, psoriasis, transplant rejection and malaria.

One of these candidates is an active ingredient behind a new oral drug, Mundesine®, which treats patients with a specific type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In March this year, Japan became the first country to approve Mundesine®, licensed by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. under an exclusive licence with Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Viclink, Victoria University’s commercialisation office.

Professor Furneaux says he’s thrilled that his team’s successes with BioCryst spurred significant commercial benefit to New Zealand through the establishment of GlycoSyn, a Wellington-based manufacturer of pharmaceutical ingredients.

“We are always looking for areas where we can apply our chemistry in ways that differentiate us so that we can patent the intellectual property we create for the future benefit of both Victoria University and New Zealand as a whole.”