A Monash University physiologist, whose research into weight management, obesity and diabetes has led to significant medical breakthroughs and drug design, has been awarded one of the nation's top research honours.
Michael Cowley received the prestigious Commonwealth Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.
Professor Cowley was last night presented with the award by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Industry Senator Kim Carr at Parliament House in Canberra.
The prize is granted to an internationally-renowned scientist who has completed their PhD within the last 10 years, and whose research has the potential to advance human welfare or society. He received $50,000, a silver medallion and a lapel pin.
"I am tremendously grateful to receive this award," Professor Cowley said.
"It's wonderful to know that my team and I are being recognised for the therapies we are developing for obesity."
Professor Cowley from the Department of Physiology has shown that neural circuits in the brain sense blood glucose and fat levels in the body. However a broken "internal regulator" can impair appetite regulation and lead to obesity, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Professor Cowley has gone on to develop a combination anti-obesity drug called Contrave that can reactivate the fat "sensor" in obese patients and help them lose weight. In a large clinical trial in the US, participants who took Contrave lost between five and 10 per cent of their body weight in one year, with minimal to moderate side effects. Contrave combines new formulations of two existing drugs: Bupropion, an antidepressant; and Naltrexone, an addiction medication.
If the Food and Drug Administration approves the drug for prescription use in the US, Contrave could, subject to regulatory approval, be licensed in Australia.
Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Edwina Cornish, who nominated Professor Cowley for the prize, said she was delighted with his success.
"Michael's discoveries have the potential to radically change how we treat metabolic disease, and help Australia deal with a recognised crisis in Indigenous and non-Indigenous health," Professor Cornish said.
Professor Cowley's award caps off a successful year. He has received a Pfizer Australia Senior Research fellowship, Austin Doyle Lectureship, and Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation Fellowship. Professor Cowley is also the inventor of 85 patents; co-founder and former Chief Scientific Officer of US-based biotechnology company, Orexigen Therapeutics; and has published 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals. His research has been profiled in the national and international media.