Destination Gold Coast Ambassador, Professor Mark von Itzstein is the Director of Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics. It is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere and only one of a few in the world.
The Institute was formed 23 years ago and has produced many important breakthroughs in tackling significant diseases. In research terms, this is a relatively short period of time.
Professor von Itzstein said the Institute was set up to be a translational biomedical research institute.
"We wanted to take excellent and outstanding basic discovery medical research and see it translate through to a new medicine, whether that be a vaccine or drug, or potentially a diagnostic tool to meet unmet clinical needs.” He said.
With that mission, the Institute for Glycomics has had extraordinary breakthroughs – Professor von Itzstein is best known for leading the team responsible for the “design, synthesis and biological evaluation” of the anti-influenza drug, Relenza®, which has been approved for the treatment of influenza worldwide since 1999.
From animal husbandry to scientific research for humans
“I've had an absolute fascination for science, broadly speaking all of my life, and it ended up being expressed in what I do today.”
His early interest was in animal husbandry and veterinary science – stemming from a childhood growing up on a Queensland farm.
“I've always had a strong interest in animals and looking after animals - and was acutely aware of the breadth and depth of animal needs from calving through to dairy through to beef, horses, dogs, cats, all of it. I was very keen to move in the direction of veterinary medicine.”
But his career took a different direction because of his deep interest in scientific research.
He did his primary degree at Griffith University and also completed his PhD at Griffith. He then was awarded a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship and went to Germany – where he undertook research and he now continues collaborations around the world.
A strong connection with his heritage
His connection to Europe, and Germany in particular, is strong. It’s the country of his family who migrated and settled in Australia. He has always had a commitment to understanding his ancestral roots – and to appreciate the culture of his family.
Professor von Itzstein’s affinity with his German heritage has been an asset that has influenced his work – especially as he chose to spend part of his career in Germany after completing his degrees in Australia.
“I speak, write and read German – and so I collaborate with significant institutions in Germany. I do feel some affiliation and rapport with the mentality, the approach and the culture.”
Establishing a Gold Coast home for medical research
Mark von Itzstein is very proud of what the Institute for Glycomics has achieved.
Since 2000, when the Institute was established, it has had a focus on diseases “that have no solutions”.
“That's a big ask - right? We started off very much with discovery medical research. We now have a number of our candidates, whether they be drug or vaccine candidates, in human clinical trials,”
“This is a truly remarkable outcome - to think that we've been able to go from that basic science right through now to human clinical trials, here on the Gold Coast and internationally, in a relatively short space of time.
“And I would suggest if you did a comparative across Institute's, not just in this country, but in the world, you won't find many that will have the same number that we have in human clinical trials right now.
“I'm very proud of that fact - that the vision and the mission that we set out many years ago, is being delivered. That doesn't mean at the end of the day, that everything is going to get to market.
Gold Coast as a medical hub
Mark von Itzstein is also very proud of Gold Coast’s hospitals – which he describes as “brilliant”.
The city’s strength as a hub for medical science is a major pillar of the Gold Coast economy.
Professor Mark von Itzstein is a major player in a diverse group of researchers, scientists and medical professionals who have contributed to Gold Coast’s outstanding reputation as a place of innovation and global best-practice. It is changing the lives of people in Australia and around the world.
Destination Gold Coast is honoured to have him as one of its Ambassadors.
He is a true leader, committed to his science and to his city.