And the 2017 winner of the Innovation Excellence in Research is... Avalia Immunotherapies!
Every day in the US, about 12,000 people between 15 to 24 are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Of those, 2,600 are infected with the HPV16 strain, which is responsible for 50 percent of human cervical cancers and more than 85 percent of HPV-positive head and neck, anal and anal-genital cancers. In sum: it is an epidemic – and one that is only getting worse.
But a Kiwi company may be helping to turn the tide in this battle. Avalia Immunotherapies is a company committed to developing immunotherapies that support the treatment of cancer and other diseases. At its core, the company – which was founded in 2015 – develops immunotherapies that can help to activate immune cells in the body, fighting disease.
One of Avalia’s immunotherapies could potentially treat patients suffering from HPV-associated cancers. It has the potential to trigger immune system responses in patients that are not currently responsive to traditional checkpoint immunotherapy.
So “curing cancer” is one of the most difficult-to-achieve goals a company can have. But Avalia may well be on its way to doing just that.
The company is led by chief executive Dr. Shivali Gulab. Based in New York, she said in 2015: “The technology can be used to design new treatments for cancer, as well as infectious disease and allergy. Our initial focus will centre on cancer immunotherapy.”
Alongside Dr. Gulab is chief science officer Dr. Ian Hermans from the prestigious Malaghan Institute and chief technology officer Dr. Gavin Painter of the Ferrier Research Institute.
Both doctors have several patents to their names and have authored dozens of peer-reviewed publications.
Translation: a very smart, ambitious company is led by some very smart, ambitious people.
Avalia may have a global focus and a chief executive based in the Big Apple, but where is its main office? Lower Hutt.
So the cure for cancer could, conceivably, be developed in small-town Aotearoa. That would be a pretty cool claim to fame.
And these aren’t just highfalutin, pie-in-the-sky claims, either. As Ferrier Research Institute director Richard Furneaux says: “I’ve worked in this field since 1980 and this is the first time I’ve been involved in placing our intellectual property in a New Zealand startup company – that’s how important this research is.
“This is also the beginning of what we hope is a birth of a biomedical initiative for the Wellington region – there’s fantastic biomedical infrastructure here, from research facilities to the excellent District Health Boards. We’re hoping Wellington will become just as well known for its biomedical research as it is for its film industry.”
November, 2017 –