THE 2021 SHIMADZU RESEARCH MEDAL: ERINNA LEE
La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science and
Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute
Dr Erinna Lee heads the Cell Death and Survival Laboratory and is Cancer Theme Leader at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS), and is a visiting scientist at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI).
Erinna was awarded her PhD in 2007. Under Professor Peter Colman and Associate Professor Douglas Fairlie at WEHI, she explored the molecular landscape dictating interactions between the BCL-2 family of apoptotic cell death regulators. Using a multi-faceted approach combining biochemistry, cell biology and structural biology, she made significant contributions to our understanding of the therapeutic value of targeting BCL-2 proteins in cancer, and developed novel, highly-stable pro-apoptotic ‘non-natural’ peptides. Tools she developed were applied as benchmark regents at Genentech, AbbVie and Servier, and she was a member of the WEHI/Genentech/AbbVie collaboration that led to clinically approved drugs targeting BCL-2 proteins.
During her postdoc at WEHI, she pursued her discovery of BCL-2 pathways in disease-causing parasites. This raised the notion of repurposing BCL-2 protein-targeting drugs as anti-infectives, leading to a drug discovery program with WEHI collaborators and recent publication of the first lead compounds targeting this pathway in parasites. Related evolutionary studies in nematodes led to the detailing of apoptosis pathways in over 80 species.
Since establishing her group at LIMS/ONJCRI in 2016, Erinna leads programs on the clinical application of BH3-mimetics in incurable cancers and collaborates with pharmaceutical companies (e.g. AbbVie, AstraZeneca) to develop tumour cell-specific BCL-2-targeting drugs. Recent findings on targeting BCL-2 proteins in mesothelioma has provided a basis for developing a phase I clinical trial. She collaborates extensively with national industry partners (Phylogica, PharmAust, Noxopharm), investigating their anti-cancer drugs.
Erinna has published over 60 articles in journals including Genes and Development, PNAS, Angewandte Chemie, Journal of Cell Biology and collaborations resulted in publications in Science, Cell and Molecular Cell. Erinna currently holds a Victorian Cancer Agency Mid-Career Fellowship and was a recipient of the 2016 ARC Future Fellowship, 2015 Thomson Reuters Citation Award, 2012 NHMRC Career Development Fellowship, 2012 ASBMB Life Technologies Edman Award, 2010 Victorian Young Tall Poppy Award, 2009 Leukaemia Foundation Philip Desbrow Fellowship, 2008 Lorne Proteins Young Investigator Award, 2007 Victoria Fellowship, 2007 ASBMB Fellowship and 2006 ASMR Campion-Ma-Playoust Award. She was nominated a Luminary in the Australian Cell Death Society, recognising members who have shaped cell death research in Australia. She served as the ASBMB Victorian State Representative and on the Australian Biochemist Editorial Committee 2017–2020.