Monash University pharmaceutical scientists honoured in NHMRC Research Excellence Awards

Monash University

Professor Denise Wootten and Professor Patrick Sexton

Two Monash University scientists are recipients of prestigious Research Excellence Awards from The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, for research which has paved the way for new treatments for a broad range of diseases.

Both Professor Patrick Sexton and Professor Denise Wootten sit within the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) at Monash’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Professor Sexton has received the 2023 NHMRC Peter Doherty Investigator Grant Award (Leadership) and Professor Wootten has received the 2023 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Basic Science).

NHMRC’s Research and Excellence Awards are awarded annually to top-ranked researchers and teams following peer review of applications to NHMRC’s highly competitive grant schemes.

Dean of Monash University’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Professor Arthur Christopoulos FAA FAHMS, said the awards are testament to the decades of groundwork both Professor Sexton and Professor Wootten have invested into drug discovery and development, with the aim to develop new medicines to benefit the lives of people all over the world.

“On behalf of the Faculty, I’d like to extend my warmest congratulations to Patrick and Denise on these very well-deserved awards, which recognise their outstanding contributions to groundbreaking research and leadership in both fundamental and translational drug discovery.”

Director of MIPS Professor Chris Porter said, “Through their exceptional research, Patrick and Denise are each making important and lasting contributions toward tackling several health challenges, which is reflected in this recognition by their peers.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Senior Vice-President, Professor Rebekah Brown said, “These NHMRC Research Excellence Awards are a prime example of the strength of Monash’s world-class medical research. Congratulations to Professor Patrick Sexton and Professor Denise Wootten for this prestigious and outstanding recognition.”

Professor Denise Wootten, 2023 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Basic Science)Professor Wootten’s project is titled: ‘Mechanistic understanding of biased agonism and dimerisation for co-targeting incretin receptors for metabolic diseases.’

“Ozempic and Mounjaro are effective drugs for treating type 2 diabetes and obesity, however, with metabolic diseases on the rise globally there is still a need for new safe and more effective treatments,” said Professor Wootten.

“The current best in class drugs (Ozempic and Mounjaro) activate two key proteins, but full mechanistic understanding of how these drugs work is still poorly understood. My team is working to determine how the two receptors work, enabling us to identify new strategies for the design of superior therapeutics for treatment of a range of metabolic diseases, which are a major global health burden.”

“I am humbled to be among the incredible women who have received Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Awards, which were established to promote and foster the career development of female researchers, an area I am passionate about.”

Professor Patrick Sexton, 2023 NHMRC Peter Doherty Investigator Grant Award (Leadership)Professor Sexton’s project is titled: ‘Structure, function and modulation of peptide hormone G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs)’.

“Cell surface proteins called G protein-coupled receptors, or ‘GPCR’s’, help to control communication within the body to maintain optimal human health. Dysregulation of these proteins can lead to disease, but they can also be targeted to treat disease,” said Professor Sexton.

“GPCR function can be altered by accessory proteins but how they do this is poorly understood and,

“It is an honour to receive the Doherty award, which recognises the critical role that basic, fundamental, science plays in building new knowledge that can change how we treat disease.”

The NHMRC Research Excellence Awards were awarded at a ceremony in Canberra on Wednesday 27 March 2024.

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