Multi-million dollar bio-nano centre opens

Fourteen organisations from five nations have collaborated to launch a US$24 million research centre designed to develop new vaccines and improve drug delivery and disease detection. The Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology was opened in Melbourne last Thursday.

Based at Monash University’s institute of pharmaceutical sciences, the centre involves 14 collaborating and partner organisations in Australia, Britain, Ireland, Korea and the United States. They include five Australian universities, three in Britain, three in the US, one each in Ireland and Korea, as well as the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Funded by the Australian Research Council, or ARC, the centre has been established to become involved in a rapidly emerging field revolutionising therapy in a wide range of diseases. Bio-nano science brings together biological research with various fields of nanotechnology.

Adopting a technical approach to biology, scientists at the centre will use nano devices and nano-particles to improve human health in four key areas: new vaccine development, drug delivery systems, imaging technologies, and disease detection.

Nano-scientists say the market for nano-medicine-based oncology drugs is projected to grow from US$5.5 billion in 2011 to US$13 billion within two years and interest in the development of novel delivery solutions to enhance cancer therapy is intense.

Under a 2012 alliance between Warwick and Monash universities, Professor Tom Davis was jointly appointed director of the centre. Davis said bio-nano science was a relatively new field, but one with extraordinary potential.

“Nano-scale entities with dimensions thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair are the essence of all living systems. If we are to better understand, treat and diagnose diseases we need technologies with nano-scale precision,” he said.

“We have the opportunity to trigger a biotech and medical technology revolution in Australia. By bringing together some of the country’s leading researchers and combining this with cutting edge technology, the centre will help turn this vision into a reality.”

Researchers at the centre will work closely with industry partners to translate research into potentially new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines for a range of conditions including HIV, cancer and malaria.

Last year, the Australian government approved A$285 million (US$266 million) over seven years to fund 12 centres under the national ARC centres of excellence scheme.

These centres collectively have nine administering bodies, 22 collaborating institutions and 106 partner organisations from 44 different countries. They will receive a total of almost A$400 million cash and in-kind support from the participating organisations.

* The Australian institutions involved in the new bio-nano centre are Monash University and the universities of Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. Others are Imperial College London and the universities of Nottingham and Warwick; Ireland’s University College Dublin; the US Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the universities of California Santa Barbara and Wisconsin-Madison; and the Korean Sungkyunkwan University.