Trinity Innovation Awards recognise researchers tackling Covid-19

2 Dec 2020

Prof Kingston Mills. Image: Trinity College Dublin

This year’s Trinity Innovation Awards celebrated researchers and entrepreneurs helping to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The annual Trinity Innovation Awards took place online on 1 December, celebrating the translation of research at Trinity College Dublin into innovative solutions with social and economic impacts.

“Trinity is a high global performer in innovation because of the excellence of the research carried out by Trinity’s academics and researchers and the supports given to them,” said Trinity College Dublin provost Dr Patrick Prendergast. “So, it is right that we have created these Innovation Awards, to acknowledge and recognise achievement.

“It goes to say that the competition for these awards has been intense, given how much talent we have at Trinity. I would like to say thank you to our winners, nominees and indeed all the staff who are constantly seeking ways to make our research and scholarship impactful. The difference that you make is immense and it is inspirational.”

Leonard Hobbs, director of Trinity Research and Innovation, added that this year’s awards celebrated research from bioactives to robotics and from augmented reality to immunology.

“This year we have a special recognition for our colleagues who have supported national efforts to control the impact of Covid-19 by their active participation in Government groups, as well as contributing to the national discourse on topics ranging from health to wellbeing and to business,” he said.

The 2020 Provost’s Innovation Award was presented to Prof Kingston Mills, professor of experimental immunology and academic director of Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, who was also named by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) as Researcher of the Year last month.

Mills leads immunology, inflammation and infection research at Trinity and also serves on several international scientific advisory panels on immunotherapy and vaccines, including two at the World Health Organization.

As well as an accomplished career in research, Mills has carved out a reputation as an entrepreneurial academic. He has co-founded three biotech start-ups – Opsona Therapeutics, TriMod Therapeutics and, most recently, Parvalis Tx – and has led significant industry collaborations for Trinity.

Along with Prof Aideen Long, Mills has led an interdisciplinary team examining the immunology of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This team aims to develop, validate and deploy rapid Covid-19 antibody testing in Ireland to identify previous infections in high-priority healthcare workers as well as the broader community.

At the virtual Innovation Awards ceremony, Long accepted the Societal Impact Award on behalf of the many people at Trinity who have supported national efforts to control the impact of Covid-19.

The ceremony also acknowledged four Trinity College Dublin spin-outs, including Akara Robotics – the team behind Violet, a robot designed to rapidly disinfect rooms and a potentially transformative tool in mitigating the spread of Covid-19.

The other campus spin-outs recognised were Senoptica, Way2toB and CaliberAI.

Award winners 2020

Innovation awards were presented across seven categories in total, including a Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Prof Peter Humphries.

For more than three decades, Humphries has dedicated his research career to understanding the molecular pathologies associated with retinal degeneration. In this time, he has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and 12 patented technologies. His research has also led to three Trinity campus companies: Genable, Junction Therapeutics and Exhaura, which was recognised among the campus companies at last year’s ceremony.

This year’s Campus Company Founders Award was presented to Prof Aljosa Smolic, co-founder of Volograms. This Enterprise Ireland-designated high-potential start-up spun out of Trinity in 2018 and has since raised more than €2.5m in funding and created 14 new jobs.

The Inventors Award was presented to both Dr Vincent Kelly and Dr Bruce Murphy. In the past 10 years, Kelly has submitted seven invention disclosures, was an inventor on five patents and is co-founder and scientific director of Azadyne, a Trinity spin-out offering a novel approach to the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Another prolific inventor, Murphy has filed almost 20 patents through Trinity Research & Innovation but was particularly recognised for his skills in commercialisation, with which he often supports Trinity campus companies.

Both Visiokine co-founder Dr Sarah Doyle and Dr Marco Ruffini were honoured as Ones to Watch. Currently, Doyle is involved with Roche in a new incubator research programme co-located in Trinity, while Ruffini recently secured extensive funding from SFI to build the new Open Ireland telecoms testbed.

Finally, Prof Maeve Lowery and Dr Frederick Sheedy each picked up an Industry Engagement Award. Lowery works closely with industry to develop core collaborative projects with the potential to impact the care of cancer patients, while Sheedy’s micro-RNA research has attracted the interest of a number of Irish and international companies including Kerry Group and Monaghan Mushrooms.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.