Australian researchers revolutionising intensive care globally win major research award

GSK Australia

• Professor Jamie Cooper and Professor Rinaldo Bellomo win GSK Award for Research Excellence 2021

• The winners are Co-Directors of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre currently working on two Australian patient registries for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO )therapy for ICU patients with respiratory or cardiac failure, and another for severe COVID-19 patients in ICU at Monash University

Friday 10 December: Australian researchers who have transformed the global approach to clinical research and treatment for critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICU) have won the prestigious 2021 GSK Award for Research Excellence.

Professor Jamie Cooper AO and Professor Rinaldo Bellomo AO – who are currently Co-Directors of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre (ANZIC-RC) and were past chairmen of the ANZIC Clinical Trials Group (CTG) – have won the award in recognition of their innovative research and leadership that has revolutionised critical care medicine on a global scale, including ongoing registries and trials focused on COVID-19 patients in ICU.

Over a 20 year collaboration, their landmark patient trials have transformed worldwide clinical guidelines, contributed major financial savings to healthcare systems and significantly improved outcomes for patients being treated for critical conditions like sepsis, traumatic brain injury, acute kidney failure and acute respiratory failure.

Their focus on large, multi-centric collaborative investigator initiated clinical trials has helped to establish Australia as the epicentre of world-class research in intensive care. The collaborative clinical research processes established by Professor Cooper and Professor Bellomo in Australia has become the dominant method for clinical research in intensive care, is recognised as best practice, and has since been followed by numerous other specialist craft groups.

Around 50% of Australians will be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) during their lifetime, with more than 120,000 people requiring critical care per year.¹ Public understanding around intensive care has improved dramatically as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on ICUs nationally, correcting misconceptions about intensive care being no different to emergency medicine as a speciality.

One of the latest projects being undertaken by the Professors’ directorship at the ANZIC-RC is contributing to global understanding of the impact of highly-specialised extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) technology in the management of cardiac arrest, severe cardiac failure and respiratory failure including COVID-19 patients.

ECMO operates by pumping and oxygenating patient’s blood outside the body, completely substituting the function of the lungs and heart.² In places like US and Australia, it has saved countless lives of COVID-19 patients who were not improving on ventilators.

ANZIC-RC has established an ongoing registry of Australian patients on ECMO and another registry of COVID-19 patients in ICU, as part of an international strategy to map the importance of this technology for supporting patients, when conventional ventilation is not working. This research is significant as data around patient outcomes is central to understanding which patients are best suited to receive this high-resource technology.

While the Professors have, and continue to, make a unique and highly productive contribution to critical care medicine, their focus now is also on supporting early and mid-career investigators who are overseeing critical care research like the ECMO study. The $80,000 AUD prize that comes with the GSK Award for Research Excellence will be used to support these emerging researchers at the ANZIC-RC at Monash University.

“Accelerating capacity for more globally-significant studies led from Australia is critical,” said Professor Cooper, who is a Senior Specialist in Intensive Care, at The Alfred Hospital, and a Sir John Monash Distinguished Professor at Monash University. “COVID-19 has placed a greater emphasis on healthcare in general but even more so on intensive care. This award is about recognising the incredible potential of the next generation of clinician-researchers in intensive care medicine in our country and supporting this with increased development and training.”

“We are driven by wanting to ensure the best care for critically ill patients and finding better ways to treat the conditions they are experiencing,” said Professor Rinaldo Bellomo, who is the Director of Intensive Care Research and Staff Specialist in Intensive Care at Austin Health. “By providing early-career researchers with the necessary opportunities and resources including seed funding for projects, cutting edge technology and software, and research support; we are supporting discoveries that have strong potential to improve longer-term outcomes and quality of life for patients around the world.”

The award was presented to Professor Cooper and Professor Bellomo at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards 2021 in Sydney. Dr Alan Paul, Medical Director, GSK Australia, said GSK is proud to be able to continue supporting Australian researchers with this award, now in its 41st year.

“The work of Professors Cooper and Bellomo is an outstanding example of how home-grown innovation and collaboration can impact not only the lives of patients around the world, but transform global practice. We are honoured to recognise their achievements and support research which could underpin further discoveries and better outcomes for patients,” said Dr Paul.

Professors Cooper and Bellomo said that winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence is testament to the power of collaboration.

“Collaboration is at the heart of medical research. This is a moment we can celebrate the efforts of our global and local colleagues, industry and patients who so generously participate in clinical trials,” said Professor Bellomo.

“We are proud to be a part of a community of talented researchers motivated by improving outcomes for patients. It is wonderful to receive the GSK Award for Research Excellence in recognition of Australian research in intensive care,” said Professor Cooper.

The GSK Award for Research Excellence is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian medical research community. It has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with a focus on human health. It has awarded almost $3 million* to support Australian research and innovation over the last 41 years.

Among the previous recipients of the GSK Award for Research Excellence are some of Australia’s most noted scientific researchers, including Professor Tony Basten (1980), Professor Nicos Nicola (1993), and Professor Kathryn North (2011). The 2020 GSK Award for Research Excellence was awarded to Professor Mark Febbraio from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science for his research around metabolic diseases and the development of a new potential treatment for obesity, type 2 diabetes and muscle mass loss.

/Public Release.