Kingston Mills among top researchers to win 2020 Trinity Innovation Awards

Posted on: 02 December 2020

Leading researchers and inventors, including Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, were recognised for their innovative research and entrepreneurship at the Trinity Innovation Awards 2020 awards last night.

The highest accolade, the Provost Innovation Award, went to Professor Kingston Mills. Kingston Mills is Professor of Experimental Immunology and Academic Director of the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI). He is the leader of the immunology, inflammation and infection research theme at Trinity and is SFI Researcher of the Year 2020. He is a member of several international scientific advisory panels on immunotherapy and vaccines, including two at the World Health Organization, and is a member of the European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant panel on infection and immunity.

In July 2020, Science Foundation Ireland announced a €4.8m investment into a collaborative partnership led by Professor Kingston Mills and Professor Aideen Long, specifically focused on the immunology of SARS-CoV-2. The partnership brings together a strong multi- and inter-disciplinary team of world-class immunologists and clinicians, combining the leading expertise of Trinity with other national and international collaborators, including the Whitehead Institute and Harvard Medical School. The partnership is supported by Allied Irish Bank (AIB) and has several industry collaborators and private sector funding. The immunologists will develop, validate and deploy rapid anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing in Ireland to identify previous SARS-CoV-2 infection in high priority healthcare workers and in the general community.

Kingston Mills is named as an inventor on 17 patents, has had numerous commercialisation awards and has led significant industry collaborations for Trinity. He has co-founded three start-up biotech companies focusing on the development of immunotherapies for inflammatory diseases and cancer, including Opsona Therapeutics, TriMod Therapeutics and, most recently, Parvalis.

Commenting on the awards, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast said:

“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 support given to them by the professional staff in Trinity Research and Innovation. 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.”

Read the Provost’s full speech here.

Professor Kingston Mills said:

“I am delighted to receive this award. It is indeed a great honour to be singled out from all the great scientists in Trinity and all the people who have been involved in innovation activity over the last year. I’d like to thank my research team, because none of this would be possible without their hard work, and of course my family, my wife and children for their ongoing support.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Professor Peter Humphries. Professor Humphries is a Fellow of Trinity and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. For over three decades he has dedicated his research to understanding the molecular pathologies associated with retinal degeneration, which leads to visual impairment or blindness affecting over 160 million people worldwide.

Professor Humphries has published over 300 peer-reviewed papers which have made a major impact on our understanding of hereditary retinopathies and the strategies that lead to emerging gene therapies which combat these devastating diseases. Retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma are major research interests of his.

He is an inventor of 12 patented technologies and his research has led to three Trinity campus companies, Genable, Junction Therapeutics and Exhaura. Peter was one of the pioneers of innovation at Trinity. In November 1989 he wrote to Bio Research Ireland, (the government department at the time responsible for funding Irish biotechnology research) reporting the discovery of the location of a gene causing a dominant form or Retinitis Pigmentosa and enquired whether they would be interested in funding the research. Today this letter is framed and hangs in the offices of Trinity Research & Innovation. Fast forward 27 years to 2016 this discovery was the genesis of the research over many years that ultimately brought the vision of pioneering academics such as Professor Peter Humphries in treating patients with genetic therapies a step closer to reality.

Leonard Hobbs, Director of Trinity Research and Innovation, said:

At this year’s event, we celebrate our colleagues whose innovative research has led to commercial success, from food bioactives to robotics, and from augmented reality to immunology. We further recognise our colleagues who have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit in founding high potential, investable companies which have achieved Campus Company status in 2020.

“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 well-being and to business.”

Professor Aljosa Smolic was awarded the Campus Company Founders Award, which is presented to an academic who has played a pivotal role in founding an investable, scalable campus company with high potential. As well as leading the 20-strong SFI research group V-SENSE, Professor Smolic was pivotal as a Co-Founder of Volograms, along with three of his postdoctoral students, which spun out of Trinity as a campus company in 2018. The company has now raised over €2.5 million in funding, created 14 new jobs, has become an Enterprise Ireland High Performing Start Up  company (HPSU) and has gained significant commercial traction with a wide range of customers including creators, brands, institutions, and other professionals that want to bring immersive storytelling to the next level. Professor Smolic remains as Scientific Advisor to Volograms.

The Inventors Award went to both Dr Vincent Kelly and to Dr Bruce Murphy, for innovative research that has led to the creation of intellectual property and has subsequently licensed to Industry. Dr Kelly joined Trinity as a postdoctoral researcher in 2003 and in the last 10 years has submitted 7 invention disclosures, was an inventor on 5 patents and is Co-founder & Scientific director of Azadyne, a Trinity Spin out, offering a novel approach to the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Dr Murphy is a prolific inventor, having filed almost 20 patents through Trinity Research & Innovation. However, it is his success in translating these inventions towards commercialisation that marks his extraordinary quality as an inventor and innovator. Of recent note are the many high profile campus companies he has supported which are developing solutions for prostatic hyperplasia, pneumothorax, tricuspid valve repair, artrial fibrillation and rapid suturing.

Dr Sarah Doyle and Dr Marco Ruffini were recognised with the ‘One to Watch’ Award, presented to up-and-coming entrepreneurial academics whose research is most likely to result in the next campus company, commercial license deal or industry engagement. Dr Doyle was recently elected a fellow to college and was an ICIS Milstein Young Investigator Award recipient in 2018. She has competitively won research funding of over €3Million and has worked with many leading companies including GSK, Inflasome, Regeneron and Novartis. She is currently involved with Roche in the new incubator research programme with colocation in Trinity and at Roche’s R&D laboratories in Basel, Switzerland.   She is co -founder of Visiokine Ltd. Dr Ruffini’s research focuses on evolving next generation networks  including Fibre to the Home and 5G and has extensive collaborations with industry including Intel , Vodafone and Facebook. He recently secured  extensive funding from SFI to build the new “Open Ireland” telecoms testbed. Furthermore, he is very active within international telecoms standards bodies , and one of his many patents has been declared as a Standard Essential Patent ( SEP) to  the BroadBand Forum. He has recently spearheaded Trinity’s application to become a member of the global Telecom Infrastructure  Project .

The Industry Engagement Award went to Professor Maeve Lowery and Dr Frederick Sheedy, recognising outstanding achievement in successfully building relationships and collaborating with industry. Professor Lowery is Professor of Translational Cancer Medicine at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Medical Oncologist at St James Hospital. Her clinical and translational research involves design and conduction of phase 1/2 clinical trials in patients with gastrointestinal malignancies. She works closely with industry to develop core collaborative projects with the potential to impact care of cancer patients on both an individual and disease specific level. Dr Sheedy has pioneered miRNA research in the field of innate immunity. He has multiple industry research awards from services agreements to collaborative programmes. His expertise has attracted a number of Irish and International companies in the food sector interested in devising the mechanisms of action of food bioactives on the human immune system including projects with Kerry, and Monaghan Mushrooms.

The Societal Impact Award is presented to an academic whose research has had a significant impact for Trinity, society and industry. The award this year was presented as a group award in recognition of the many Trinity 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 well-being to business. Professor Aideen Long, from Trinity’s Translational Medicine Institute accepted the award on behalf of her colleagues.

Four spin out companies, which had attained campus company status in 2020, were also recognised:

  • Senoptica: The Senoptica Technology helps identify defective modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and will ultimately reduce food waste on the most resource intensive and valuable foods
  • Way2B: way2B is a smartphone and smartwatch solution, which allows carers to pre-programme set routes with turn-by-turn directions, which helps people with intellectual disabilities navigate independently
  • Akara Robotics: Akara have produced two robots including Stevie, a social robot designed to help keep seniors socially connected, and to support caregivers in the delivery of group-based wellness activities and Violet which has been designed to rapidly disinfect rooms where it is not practical to use traditional approaches
  • Calibre AI: CaliberAI is a multidisciplinary collaboration of experienced journalists, developers, linguists, computer scientists and machine learning engineers, aiming to support publishers with tools designed to flag potentially defamatory or otherwise harmful content


Watch the full ceremony below:

Trinity College Dublin Innovation Awards 2020

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