Published Aug 24, 2017
Ryan Graves, Viclink’s newest Senior Commercialisation Manager, remembers the defining moment that he became interested in taking science outside of the lab to help others.
“I was sitting in a lecture in 2001, listening to Otago University’s Professor Warren Tate talk about the explosion of biotech tools, and how they could be used to fight disease and improve the lives of patients, and something just clicked for me,” he says. Since that day, Ryan has been passionate about using both fundamental and translatable science to make a difference—making him the perfect fit for his new role.
A biochemist by trade, Ryan gained his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from Otago University, conducting his Masters research on HIV-1 with Professor Tate’s research group.
He then moved north to join the University of Auckland where, as a research assistant, he used molecular biology tools to identify targets for cancer vaccines with Professor Rod Dunbar’s research group. Next, he headed to the United Kingdom (UK) to work for UCB Pharma, a multi-national pharmaceutical company focused on neurology and immunology disorders.
“Their approach to science is ‘how will this help people living with severe diseases?’ which really appealed to me,” says Ryan, who worked on developing a new class of cancer drug, using cutting edge monoclonal antibody technology.
The experience left him wanting to know more so Ryan returned to study, this time at Queen Mary, University of London where he completed a PhD in neuroscience (focusing on neuro-protection in Multiple Sclerosis and the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids). As part of his PhD, Ryan spent time at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh, working alongside some of the world’s leaders in stem cell research. He then did his postdoctoral research at King’s College, London with Professor Chris Shaw, researching neurodegeneration pathways in Motor Neuron Disease, and developing a disease-model drug screen in collaboration with a pharmaceutical company, to find novel drugs for this disease.
Returning home to New Zealand in 2014, Ryan joined the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as Sector Manager within the Science Investments Branch—with a focus on Biological Industries and Health Research. He subsequently joined PHARMAC as a Device Category Manager, where he managed processes for medical device expenditure in DHB hospitals. "I was impressed with the ambition of PHARMAC to become the first in the world to get an oversight on our nation’s entire medical device expenditure, including everything from mechanical compression devices to stents for interventional cardiology" says Ryan who started with Viclink in August.
So what is he looking forward to about his new role? “I’m excited to be the conduit between science and business, and I’m passionate about taking scientific breakthroughs – big or small – into a pathway towards market, and hopefully into a therapeutic that will help people with illness. Generating a return on investment is a bonus that enables our researchers to continue to grow their research.” Ryan says he is inspired by the Ferrier Research Institute’s success with Mundesine®, licensed by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals and Mundipharma —only the second drug in New Zealand to reach the market.
And what challenges is he expecting to face? “I’m all about securing investment that will enable us to turn our researchers’ concepts into prototypes, ready to show investors,” he says. “I also want to make sure we provide opportunities for academics to explore commercialisation alongside fundamental science. I really want to get the message across that researchers can publish and patent alongside each other—the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s all about how you do it, and that’s where Viclink has the expertise to help.”
Ryan says that Victoria is rich with talent, but after working with enormous research teams and million dollar budgets in the UK, he’s still adjusting to New Zealand’s smaller scale. “And yet, incredibly, New Zealand not only manages to keep up, we’re actually leading the world in certain areas, which is a testament to our talent and innovative thinking," he says.
For more information, email Ryan call him on
04 463 9458.