This page belongs to: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2023

2023 Prize for New Innovators

Associate Professor Lara Herrero 

Griffith University’s Associate Professor Lara Herrero has received the 2023 Prize for New Innovators.

Associate Professor Herrero has a unique combination of scientific, clinical and public health training. She has drawn on this to impact the way we diagnose, treat and manage viral infections.

She contracted Ross River virus (RRV) and suffered excruciating pain to her muscles and joints for 2 years. RRV is the most common mosquito-transmitted disease in Australia, with more than 5000 infections reported per year.

This motivated her to focus on RRV and other mosquito-transmitted viruses associated with arthritis. In less than 10 years, she translated her research into a world-first drug with potential to treat these diseases in humans with long-term debilitating symptoms. She repurposed a known drug.

Her home-grown discovery has potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide who experience viral arthritis.

She has now successfully commercialised the IP for the novel therapeutic. This is through an exclusive, royalty-bearing licence deal between Griffith University and ASX-listed biotechnology company Paradigm Biopharmaceuticals.

Watch video highlights

Transcript

[Music plays and an image appears of a Prize for New Innovators medallion above text: Associate Professor Lara Herrero, BSC (Hons) MD MPH PHD]

[Image changes to show Assoc Prof Lara Herrero talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show a close profile view of Lara talking to the camera]

Assoc Prof Lara Herrero: What I love about science is that it makes you ask why, and it makes you question the world around you. It gives you a platform of which you can find creative solutions to world problems. 

[Images move through to show a close view of liquid in a conical flask, Lara looking at the liquid, and then Lara talking to the camera, and text appears: Associate Professor Lara Herrero]

My name Is Lara Herrero. I am an Associate Professor and a Research Leader at the Institute for Glycosmis here at Griffith University. 

[Images move through of various views of the Griffith University buildings, and then Lara talking to the camera]

I didn’t know what area of science I really found interesting. 

[Image changes to show Lara at work in a lab, and then the image changes to show a close view of Lara studying samples in a tray in the lab]

It wasn’t until I took a microbiology course in second year university, after that I focussed mainly on virology and the study of viruses. 

[Image changes to show a close view of organisms under a microscope slide, and then the image changes to show a profile view of Lara talking to the camera]

What I loved about microbiology is just the study of these tiny organisms that can cause so much destruction and I thought this is something we really need to understand better. 

[Images move through to show Lara and a colleague in the lab, a close view of liquid being syringed up, and a close view of a mosquito biting a human]

The Ross River Virus is a mosquito transmitted virus that’s common in Australia. 

[Image changes to show Lara talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show a close view of red liquid in a sample test tube]

I contracted it and was sick for about two years with excruciating pain to my muscles and joints. 

[Image changes to show Lara holding the sample tube and syringing liquid from the test tube, and then the image changes to show Lara talking to the camera]

Recognising that there are no treatments out there, I decided to take all the information we had on Ross River and look at a drug repurposing strategy. 

[Image changes to show a close side view of Lara talking to the camera]

And we found one that’s called Pentosan polysulfate that was traditionally used for bladder inflammation, and that actually shared a lot of the mechanisms to Ross River virus induced arthritis. 

[Image changes to show a close and then medium view of Lara listening to a patient’s heart with a stethoscope, and then a close view of Lara listening to the stethoscope and smiling]

So, to help me understand how to get a drug all the way to a patient I needed to understand medicine better. 

[Image changes to show a facing view of Lara walking towards the camera]

So, I went to study medicine. 

[Image changes to show a facing and then close profile view of Lara talking to the camera]

We were able to get a patent on this invention and then we here at Griffith were able to partner with Paradigm Biopharmaceuticals to get the drug through clinical trials and into patients. 

[Images move through to show a vibration machine in the lab, a pressure band being put on a patient’s arm, the patient smiling, colleagues in the lab, and Lara talking to colleagues]

To get a drug from the lab bench all the way through clinical trials and into patients and do so successfully in under ten years is a great achievement for the team. 

[Image changes to show Lara talking to the camera]

There are no real big discoveries that are on the shoulders of only one individual, it’s a big team effort. 

[Images changes to show a close view of Lara looking at samples in the lab, and then the image changes to show a view of Lara in conversation with colleagues]

And that’s not just the scientists in the lab but it’s the team behind the scenes.

[Images move through to show a close view of the colleagues smiling, Lara talking to the camera, and then Lara folding her arms and smiling at the camera]

To receive the prize for New Innovators is just a wonderful recognition for me and my team and gives me a new sense of hope for the work that we’re doing and the work that we’ll do in the future.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a Prize for New Innovators medallion on the left, the Australian Government Coat of Arms at the bottom right, and text on the right: 2023 Prize for New Innovators]