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2021 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation

Professor Anthony Steven Weiss AM

The University of Sydney’s Professor Anthony (Tony) Weiss AM is recognised for his pioneering research and commercialisation of synthetic tropoelastin-based biomaterials, which can accelerate and improve the repair of human tissue. For the past two decades, he has pioneered global research into tropoelastin and elastic fibres, which are found in human tissue ranging from the skin to the lungs and arteries.

In 2008, he founded the company Elastagen to commercialise his research and inventions. The company raised $35 million in venture capital and grant funding, completed clinical trials and scaled-up production. Ten years later, Elastagen was sold to one of the world’s biggest biopharmaceutical companies for $334 million, one of the largest transactions ever completed in Australia’s life science sector.

Watch a video about their work

[Music plays and the image shows a new slide showing the Australian Government Crest, Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation medallion animated and turning, and the words 2021, Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation, and the name, Professor Anthony Steven Weiss AM]

[Image changes to show a close view of Professor Anthony Weiss walking towards the camera, and the camera zooms out on Tony walking in the building]

Professor Tony Weiss: I'm Professor Tony Weiss. I'm the McCaughey Chair in Biochemistry and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Sydney.

[Image changes to show a side facing view of Tony talking, and then the image changes to show a facing view of Tony talking to the camera]

I've always wanted to be a scientist. And in fact, when I was a little tiny kid, my parents brought me a toy car. They left the room, came back and there I was dismantling this toy car.
 

[Image changes to show a side facing view of Tony talking, and then the image changes to show a facing view of Tony talking to the camera]

And it was at that moment. I think I became a scientist. And ever since that time, I've always loved the idea of watching and learning how things tick.

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And I'm still doing the same thing today. But this time around it's the biological world.

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It’s understanding how the human body works and therefore trying to repair the human body.

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I'm best known for the ability to build elastic tissue. Our bodies have elastic tissue in a whole range of places. For example, elastic ligaments in our skin and so our skin flexes, in blood vessels, as they expand and contract, in literally multiple parts of the body that need to have this flexible elasticity, they always need the same building component.
 

[Images move through of a rear view of Tony and a colleague in conversation while looking at a computer screen, and a close view of Tony working in a laboratory]

We have developed ways to be able to build the precise components that are used to assemble features of the human body.

[Images move through of a close view of liquid being syringed up, Tony opening a machine in the lab, Tony working at a lab bench with a machine, and then a close view of the machine]

It was amazing to watch how we transformed basic science, being done in the lab to something that was much more applied, and now began to look like something that could really help a lot of people.

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Our research and clinical trials are showing that we can halve the time taken for a wound to heal.

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I founded a company, Elastagen, and that was designed to take this technology forward.

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People said it couldn't be done. And I just ignored the naysayers and went straight on and succeeded.

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Ten years later, the company was sold for more than $300 million in total in one of the largest healthcare transactions in Australia's history.

[Images move through of a close view of an iPad, Tony talking on a Smartphone while looking at an iPad, and then Tony and a colleague looking at a computer screen]

Elastagen has now transitioned to the global stage and it is a true Aussie success story. Elastagen didn't simply exist on its own.

[Images move through to show a close view of Tony and a colleague in conversation, researchers working in a laboratory]

I will be always eternally grateful to that collection of people, to that village of people to make Elastagen succeed.

[Image changes to show Tony talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show Tony walking past the glass windows on a laboratory]

To receive the Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation means so much to me. Innovation is a roller coaster ride. We go through ups, we go through downs and in our case it was a long journey.
 

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And most important, it's a celebration of the importance of science and innovation in this country.

[Image changes to show a new slide showing the Australian Government Crest, Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation medallion animated and turning, and the words 2021 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation, and the name, Professor Anthony Steven Weiss AM]

See their acceptance speech

[Image shows slide showing the Australian Government Crest, Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation medallion animated and turning, and the words 2021 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation, and the name, Professor Anthony Steven Weiss AM]

[Image changes to show a facing view of Tony talking to the camera and a Prize medallion and text can be seen: Professor Anthony Steven Weiss AM]

I'm absolutely delighted to receive the Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation. I thank the Prime Minister, and appreciate the Minister's support. Specifically I also would like to really thank my nominator, Brigitte Smith, all my supporters, the selection committee. I want to recognize the University of Sydney, and all the university leadership, and our remarkable Charles Perkins Centre. I want to recognize my mentor, Professor Gerry Wake, who would have been thrilled to watch me receive this award. My lab, students and staff over the years, our teams and collaborators, particularly Dr Suzanne Mithieux. I want to thank also the countless colleagues and supporters on the commercialization journey, the Elastagen investors, its board, its staff, amazing CEO, Dr Rob Daniels.

I also want to thank the state government who’s been wonderfully supportive throughout. My wife, Jacky, my parents, children, my family for all their love and support. This award means so much to me. It's been wonderful to go down the path of commercialising the products of science and technology. And it's incredibly invigorating to put products on shelves in hospitals and elsewhere to make the world a better place. I thank you very much.

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