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  • The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) is a network of public research organisations who collaborate to commercialise science to grow the New Zealand economy. Commercialising science can include innovation to add value to existing products and transform science research and discoveries into products and services.

    The annual KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of those who are commercialising publicly funded research. There are five awards, including a supreme award selected from the four main category winners.

    Rights: Sciencelens Photography

    Professor Richard Furneaux

    In 2017, synthetic chemist Professor Richard Furneaux, the director of the Ferrier Research Institute at Victoria University, won both the Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award and the BNZ Supreme Award at the KiwiNet Awards.

    BNZ Supreme Award and Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award 2017

    Professor Richard Furneaux, Director of the Ferrier Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, won the BNZ Supreme Award in 2017. Richard also won the Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award. This recognises those who’ve made an outstanding contribution to business innovation through technology licensing, start-up creation or providing expertise to support business innovation.

    Richard is a synthetic chemist who is world renowned for his work on drug development, carbohydrate chemistry and synthetic chemistry. Richard’s team were responsible for only the second New Zealand-developed medical compound to make it to an international drug store counter. The breakthrough anti-lymphoma drug Mundesine was approved by Japanese regulators in March 2017. Forodesine hydrochloride is the active ingredient Richard and his team developed alongside scientists in New York.

    The drug is being used to treat a group of aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are cancers of the immune system that start in the B cells. Like all cancers, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping. Mundesine plays an important role in triggering cell death in the runaway cells (known as immortal cells).

    Rights: Ferrier Research Institute

    Professors Peter Tyler and Richard Furneaux

    Forodesine hydrochloride, the active ingredient in a drug to treat a number of non-Hodgkin lymphomas, was first synthesised by Professors Peter Tyler and Richard Furneaux and first conceived by long-time collaborator Professor Vern Schramm from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

    Alongside his research, Richard’s passion has been about assuring the science of his team can add value to the New Zealand economy.

    Richard has been involved in setting up Avalia Immunotherapies and GlycoSyn. GlycoSyn is a company involved in the development and manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

    It is estimated that Richard’s team and GlycoSyn has generated about $80 million in revenue over the past 11 years. Alongside his role in creating potentially life-saving drugs, it’s easy to see why Richard was a KiwiNet supreme winner!

    View the KiwiNet video: Professor Richard Furneaux – Carbohydrate chemistry delivers sweet success to NZ.

    Norman Barry Foundation Emerging Innovator Award 2017

    Associate Professor Geoff Rodgers from the University of Canterbury was recognised in the emerging innovator category with the Norman Barry Foundation Emerging Innovator Award. This award celebrates up-and-coming entrepreneurial researchers.

    A mechanical engineer, Geoff has worked closely with industry to develop a number of mechanical innovations. His work is varied – ranging from seismic engineering to developing a new method for early detection of the wear and tear of hip joint implants.

    Geoff developed a seismic damper that dissipates the kinetic (moving) energy of seismic waves that can damage building structures during an earthquake. These are in use in a Christchurch healthcare complex.

    Seismic dampers are kind of like shock absorbers for a building – learn more about them in this article, and read the article Seismic engineering to explore other ways engineers are working to protect structures from earthquake damage.

    In 2018, Geoff developed seismic dampers for the new central city Christchurch library.

    Find out more about seismic engineering work at Canterbury University.

    View the KiwiNet video: Dr Geoff Rodgers – Seismic damping solutions for buildings and joint implant diagnostics.

    MinterEllisonRuddWatts Research & Business Partnership Award 2017

    Precision Driven Health, a collaboration between the University of Auckland, Orion Health and Waitemata District Health Board, won the MinterEllisonRuddWatts Research & Business Partnership Award. The award celebrates relationships between research organisations and businesses that deliver significant commercial value for New Zealand.

    Precision Driven Health is using data science and new data science techniques to transform healthcare towards a precision medicine or personalised medicine model.

    Precision medicine requires comprehensive information about an individual including genetic and social profiles in order for medical decisions, treatments and products to be tailored to the individual patient.

    Precision Driven Health’s research programme looks at the capture, management and application of data about an individual for analysis and insights that will enable better patient outcomes. Data can be sourced from health information systems, consumer devices, social networks, genetic testing, hospital and medical equipment and other sources.

    Findings are already being utilised with an existing platform and are able to be adapted to global platforms.

    View the KiwiNet video: Precision Driven Health – Empowering data-driven healthcare solutions through a public-private research partnership.

    PwC Commercial Deal Award 2017

    The PwC Commercial Deal Award recognises excellence in research commercialisation that delivers innovation and the potential for significant economic impact. In 2017, this was awarded to the University of Auckland and Uniservices for Soul Machines.

    Rights: Laboratory for Animate Technologies, Auckland Bioengineering Institute


    The virtual infant BabyX was brought to ‘life’ by computational models of the brain and nervous system. BabyX has gained worldwide attention for its pioneering biologically based approach to artificial intelligence.

    In 2011, two-time Academy Award winner Professor Mark Sagar moved from Weta Digital to the Laboratory for Animate Technologies based in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) at Auckland University. There he led a team to develop Facemaker and BabyX.

    BabyX is a virtual animated baby that learns and reacts like a human baby. The technology and science behind BabyX involves artificial intelligence (AI), computational brain models and experiential learning. BabyX provides the AI industry with an emotional and social reasoning platform to further utilise in the drive to create more human-like AI.

    In 2016, a $7.5 million dollar offshore investment launched Soul Machines, a company built to utilise and advance the BabyX technology.

    View the KiwiNet video: Soul Machines – Humanizing the interface between man and machine.

    Activity idea

    The KiwiNet Awards celebrate successful innovation in New Zealand. To explore the concept of innovation further in a New Zealand context, students could use this activity on unpacking innovation.

    Related content

    Take a look at some of the previous winners of the KiwiNet Awards in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

    Take a closer look at some other research that came out of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute – Melanoma spread pattern model.

    Useful links

    Read about the commercialisation of Professor Richard Furneaux’s work in this press release and news article.

    View Associate Professor Geoffrey Rodgers’ seismic damper in the new Christchurch library in this University of Canterbury news release.

    Take a look at the many data science research projects under way at Precision Driven Health.

    Professor Mark Sagar can be heard talking about his work in this YouTube video from the TedX Christchurch event.

    Learn about the Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and watch a demonstration of BabyX with Professor Sanger here.

    Learn more about artificial intelligence in the news article The robots are coming – can we be friends with them?

      Published 22 May 2019, Updated 28 October 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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