Global pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson has awarded an RMIT academic $660,000 to support his research into lung cancer treatment.
Professor Leslie Yeo is developing a revolutionary nebuliser that could one day deliver life-saving cancer drugs and vaccines traditionally given by intravenous infusion or injection.
Cheap, light-weight and portable, the advanced nebuliser delivers precise drug doses to patients with life-threatening or debilitating lung conditions including cancer, tuberculosis, asthma and cystic fibrosis.
Yeo is Professor of Chemical Engineering in RMIT’s School of Engineering, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Director of RMIT’s Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory.
His project, “Inhaled Lung Cancer Therapeutics”, was selected from a pool of more than 470 applicants worldwide.
It won Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s World Without Disease QuickFire Challenge for game-changing, early-stage innovation in the Therapeutics, Consumer, Health Technologies and Medical Device sectors.
As well as the funding (US$500,000), Yeo has also won a residency at JLABS – Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s incubator facility, established to support start-ups and entrepreneurs with access to the world-class expertise and technology.
Yeo said: “My team has developed a novel, advanced handheld personalised nebulisation platform for inhaled delivery of next-generation lung cancer drugs.
“Together with our collaborator, Associate Professor Ben Solomon at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, we hope to make treatment of lung cancer easier, cheaper, safer and more effective.
“The problem with normal puffers is that only 30 per cent of the drugs actually get to the lungs, the rest is lost in the mouth – which isn’t a problem if the drugs are cheap but is when they are expensive.
“The most important aspect of the device is that it does not damage large biological molecules such as the antibody-based drugs that constitute the next generation in lung cancer therapeutics.
“Another important aspect of the device is that it can generate the aerosols to be inhaled sufficiently quickly for practical use – a significant improvement over currently available portable nebulisers which require long inhalation times to get enough drug to the lung.’’
Professor Xinghuo Yu, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President, welcomed the award.
“This is a valuable piece of work that has the potential to change lives.
“Professor Yeo, his team at RMIT and his collaborators at Peter MacCallum are to be congratulated for creating knowledge and impact in this area of human need.
“This is what research at RMIT is all about – shaping the world by applying what we know to shared problems through collaborative innovation.”
Yeo believes the nebuliser has enormous potential, particularly for people with lung cancer.
“The five-year survival rate for lung cancer remains around 15 per cent despite the significant therapeutic advances achieved in recent years and currently there are no personalised delivery devices for inhaled cancer drugs to improve these clinical outcomes.
“Our nebuliser addresses this gap as a low-cost and convenient yet efficient method of delivering oncolytics directly to the lungs, potentially revolutionising the treatment of lung cancer.’’
Story: David Glanz