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Medicinal chemist wins inaugural De Burgh Fellowship

Medicinal chemist Dr Guillaume Lessene has been awarded the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's inaugural de Burgh Fellowship at the institute's annual general meeting in Melbourne, Australia.

The $AUD150,000 de Burgh Fellowship honours the role Professor Patrick de Burgh played in shaping the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. It was established this year following the death of Professor de Burgh in August at the age of 94.

It was in Professor de Burgh's laboratory at the University of Sydney that institute legends Professor Donald Metcalf, Professor Jacques Miller and Sir Gustav Nossal obtained their first taste of research.

Professor de Burgh was a Bosch Professor or Bacteriology at the University of Sydney and worked on the pathogenesis of infectious disease.

Dr Lessene said it was a great honour to be named the de Burgh Fellow. "The fact the fellowship acknowledges translational research is really important that is what I do every day and it's great that these activities are supported by the fellowship and the institute," Dr Lessene said.

Dr Lessene translates research findings from the institute into the discovery and development of new drugs. His main focus is cancer research and Dr Lessene is currently working on developing inhibitors to the pro-survival Bcl-2 proteins that are involved in programmed cell death, for treatment of several types of cancer. He is also involved in projects looking at other cancer targets, such as tyrosine kinases, and non-cancer targets involved in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

"We work in multidisciplinary teams in constant interaction with biologists to create small molecules that will interact with or modulate recognised cell signaling pathways or targets involved in disease, with the aim of treating or curing that disease," Dr Lessene said.

"The very high standing of the research at the institute is a key element in the success of our program. The Chemical Biology division of which I am part is there to take the next step, bringing these biological discoveries from the laboratory and translating them into molecules that have the right biological activities and properties to reach clinical trials and potentially become a new drug."

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton congratulated Dr Lessene and said the institute and the Australian community owed Professor de Burgh a great debt.

"One could only imagine the shape of Australian medical research today had Professor de Burgh provided a humdrum rather than an inspiring environment," Professor Hilton said.

"The De Burgh Fellowship is awarded to a scientist with an outstanding record of research or research translation, who collaborates productively with other members of the faculty, and who is likely to make a major contribution to the institute in the long term. Guillaume meets all these criteria with aplomb."


Contact: Penny Fannin
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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