Meet Chengxue Helena Qin, Head of the Cardiovascular Pharmacology Lab and a National Heart Foundation Future Fellow at Monash University. Here she talks about commercialising her research, taking it out of the lab and into the lives of heart patients, as well as playing a part in her community to break the “diversity ceiling”
What is your current role and how did you get to be there?
I am a translational pharmacologist, with a long-term goal of developing novel medicines to treat devastating cardiovascular disease – the number one killer in Australia and worldwide. I have National Heart Foundation and Medical Research Future Fund support and am the Head of the Cardiovascular Pharmacology Laboratory at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, ranked #1 globally
Given my childhood interest in biology and chemistry, I undertook biomedical science training specialising in drug discovery at the University of Melbourne. Upon completion of my PhD, I was recruited as a research fellow to the Baker Institute to expand my training in a preclinical model, and recruited to Monash University to establish my research team during the pandemic.
In parallel, I am keen on driving biotechnology towards commercialisation. Exposure to the biotech industry and commercialisation training, though Molecule to Medicine and the Bridge Program, equipped me to better engage with industry and ultimately translate science to better health outcomes.
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community?
I am extremely passionate about driving biotechnology towards commercialisation and would love to see more novel medicines being discovered and developed in Australia. My team focuses on developing “pro-resolving medicine” by turning to nature to influence the inflammatory response and restore organ function. This state-of-the-art drug discovery platform, based on an emerging concept, is being crystallised by many brilliant national and international multidisciplinary collaborators to meet patient needs and deliver breakthrough medicine to restore normal life.
What project would you love to get off the ground, or skill would you develop, if you had the opportunity?
I really want to bridge the “valley of death” to commercialise our scientific discoveries. It’s the period in therapeutic development when significant investment is needed, making the risk of failure more likely to outweigh a potential future return. We are building a compelling proof-of-concept data package to better engage with industry and investors – and improve our chances of success. A big part of that has been support from Therapeutic Innovation Australia (TIA).
TIA enables emerging scientists with limited resources – like me – to access world-class facilities to accelerate the Australian drug development process, including through a voucher-style researcher access scheme. With the TIA Pipeline Accelerator, now accepting applications for the first 2022–23 round until October 28, the proof-of-concept data we generate is helping us with new intellectual property and with meeting criteria for specific funding grants with a commercialisation focus.
I am very fortunate to have received TIA Pipeline Accelerator support in the past few years, assisting with access in 2020 to world-class facilities at the Australian Translational Medicinal Chemistry Facility for design and synthesis of the next generation of pro-resolving medicines. In an earlier round, I was successful in securing access to the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation to understand how new medicines might metabolise in our body.
What are your loves outside of work?
I am passionate in promoting diverse and inclusive communities and breaking the “diversity ceiling”. For example, Asian Australians comprise up to 12% of our population but hold only around 3% of the senior leadership positions in our public institutions and ASX 200 companies. I want to break the “bamboo ceiling” and encourage more Australian organisations to use the talent and skills of a diverse community by advancing more Asian Australians to leadership positions. This might also hold the key in restoring social cohesion and economic prosperity in Australia’s post-COVID-19 recovery.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector?
Follow your passion and be curious. Sometimes our tight funding climate and fear of criticism leads to safer science, but I hope there is enough enthusiasm out there to enable us to persevere, meet challenges and develop better medicines.