Two pioneering Australians, acknowledged for their contribution to end the debilitating disease river blindness, have generously dedicated the prize money from their latest award to Burnet Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) program.
Mark Sullivan and John Reeder were presented with the 2020 Mitchell Humanitarian Award at The Australasian Aid Conference Dinner in Canberra on Tuesday for their navigation of complex drug development pathways to facilitate the availability of better treatments.
Onchocerciasis, or river blindness as it’s better known, is endemic to 31 countries. Caused by worms transmitted by backfly bites, it’s estimated to infect 20 million people, including one million with vision loss.
Image: Professor John Reeder, joint winner of the 2020 Mitchell Humanitarian Award
Professor Reeder, in his role as head of the UN-based Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, and Mr Sullivan, a drug development industry expert, championed the use of the drug moxidectin, which was shown in studies to be more effective than prevailing treatments.
Their research and advocacy led to moxidectin being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for use in river blindness for patients aged over 12 years.
It was first case of an Australian-sponsored novel drug achieving FDA approval, and the first case of a non-profit organisation achieving approval without a pharmaceutical industry partner.
Mr Sullivan said he and Professor Reeder were proud and honoured to receive the Mitchell Humanitarian Award, and pleased to donate the $10,000 in prize money to assist research into the major causes of poor maternal, newborn and infant health in Papua New Guinea.
“John and I are delighted to support the important HMHB program at Burnet as we both have a heritage with the institute,” Mr Sullivan said.
“While there are a vast number of worthwhile causes, particularly in times of crisis, it is important to remember to support fundamental programs such as this.
Professor Reeder is a former Co-Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, and Mr Sullivan is the founder of Medicines Development for Global Health, created to undertake the end-to-end development of drugs for neglected diseases, and the Victorian Australian of the Year for 2019.
Awarded by the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University, the Mitchell Humanitarian Award is named after businessman and philanthropist Harold Mitchell AC.
It’s given annually to recognise a contribution to the cause of international development that inspires others, that’s of lasting and significant value, with a link to Australia, and that has not yet been adequately recognised.
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