Opening Biomolecular Pathways – The 2021 Phillip Law Postdoctoral Award

Professor Sandra Rees

“Dr Draper-Joyce is already making significant advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in drug binding and action on membrane receptors; this is a vital area of research.” – Professor Sandra Rees FRSV, assessor

Dr Christopher Draper-Joyce

The Royal Society of Victoria is delighted to congratulate Dr Christopher Draper-Joyce, the 2021 recipient of the Phillip Law Postdoctoral Award, and the first to be awarded in the new category of Biomedical and Health Sciences.

David Walker
Professor David Walker

Assessment panel member Professor David Walker MRSV remarked that “of all the candidates, Dr Draper-Joyce probably shows the most independent ability to drive his work forward in a targeted manner.”

Christopher attained his PhD from Monash University in 2017, working with the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) under the supervision of Dr J Robert Lane and Dr David Thal to characterise the biomolecular actions of the dopamine D2 receptor using pharmacological assays, molecular biology and biochemistry techniques. He continued on with MIPS as a Postdoctoral Fellow, extending his analytical and molecular pharmacology skillset into the field of structural biology, with a particular focus on “solving” – revealing – the structures of a family of cell surface receptors, the G Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR) G protein complexes with new methodologies, opening the door to new opportunities for therapeutic drug discoveries. Christopher commends the training and mentorship he received from GPCR research leaders Professor Arthur Christopoulos, Professor Patrick Sexton and Dr Alisa Glukhova at MIPS, who have “a long and successful track record or mentoring early career research fellows.”

Now based at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health as an ARC DECRA Fellow, Dr Draper-Joyce has joined a multi-disciplinary team under the mentorship of Professor Ross Bathgate and Associate Professor Daniel Scott, who combine expertise in protein engineering and peptide pharmacology at their laboratory within the Florey’s Discovery Sciences division. Christopher is currently working with A/Professor Scott on several protein engineering projects, including developing lead proteins that bind to the S glycoprotein (Spike) of SARS-CoV-2 and may have the ability to act as novel antiviral agents.

Further, they have begun a collaboration with Professor Claus Løland at the University of Copenhagen to use protein engineering efforts to aid in the molecular characterisation of the human dopamine transporter, an important target for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, clinical depression and substance use disorders. Concurrently, Christopher is working with Professor Bathgate’s and Professor Paul Gooley’s team to help solve GPCR structures concerned with the peptide relaxin to enable further structure-based drug design.

Dr Draper-Joyce has received multiple awards, prizes, scholarships and selections across his research career to date, including the Asia-Pacific Protein Association Young Scientist Award in 2020, and has made excellent progress in securing substantial grant funding towards his continuing research, including an ARC DECRA funding and an NHMRC Ideas Grant, with support from the Florey Innovation Fund and Perpetual’s 2021 IMPACT Philanthropy Application Program. He is clearly focused on contributing to the further development of the research sector, with placements in a number of specialised training programs in both academic leadership and the commercialisation and translation of biomedical research.

Dr Jane Canestra
Dr Jane Canestra
Dr Gavin Smith

Most significantly, the Award recognises Christopher’s contribution to developing the skills and careers of more junior scientists, which is “very high with regard to research supervision of PhDs, Masters, Honours and undergraduates,” according to assessment panel member Dr Jane Canestra MRSV.

Please join us in congratulating Christopher. We also convey our gratitude to our assessment panellists for their challenging work in weighing the merits of a very competitive field of entries this year: Dr Gavin Smith MRSV, Dr Jane Canestra MRSV, Professor David Walker MRSV and Professor Sandra Rees FRSV. Our thanks to you all.

Dr Draper-Joyce will be presenting a public lecture on his work to the Royal Society of Victoria on Thursday, 25 November at 6:30pm titled “Improving Drug Discovery: A Molecular Understanding of Cell Surface Receptors,” where he will be presented with the 2021 Phillip Law Postdoctoral Award and a prize of $3,000.

About Dr Christopher Draper-Joyce

Dr Christopher Draper-Joyce is an ARC DECRA Fellow with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and a Lecturer on Drug Discovery with the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. He was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, where he earlier completed his PhD on the biomolecular actions of the dopamine D2 receptor using pharmacological assays, molecular biology and biochemistry techniques.

Christopher’s postdoctoral work has extended his analytical and molecular pharmacology skillset into the field of structural biology, with a particular focus on solving and stabilising the GPCR-G protein complexes, to shed new light on the molecular mechanisms of drug-receptor action. He has contributed to the collective pandemic effort with colleagues at the Florey, bringing the Institute’s collective skillset in protein engineering to bear on SARS-CoV-2, developing novel lead proteins that can bind to the S glycoprotein (Spike) of the virus, and may be useful as antiviral agents.

Dr Draper-Joyce’s efforts have been recognised with an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award and the Asia-Pacific Protein Association Young Scientist Award in 2020 and, in 2021, he is the recipient of the Royal Society of Victoria’s Phillip Law Postdoctoral Award in Category II: Biomedical and Health Sciences.

About the Phillip Law Postdoctoral Award

This Award was made possible from the generous bequest to the Society from the estate of the late Dr Phillip Garth Law AC (1912-2010), a leader of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions that established our nation’s bases in the southernmost continent, and a former President of the Royal Society of Victoria.  The award is for excellence in scientific research by an early career researcher within seven years of attaining a PhD from a Victorian research institution. Allowances are made for career interruptions due to parenting obligations.