Plant & Food scores successes at KiwiNet commercialisation awards

David Hughes, Chief Executive of Plant & Food Research, has been named the inaugural KiwiNet Commercialisation Icon.

Also recognised at the annual KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards were Commercialisation Manager Darja Pavlovic-Nelson, winner of the Commercialisation Professional category, and the development of biocontrol product Aureo®Gold, winner of the Commercial Impact category.

The marine collagen product ActivLayr was also a finalist in the Commercial Impact category.

David, who was Group GM Commercial before being appointed CEO in 2018, was recognised for his dedication to finding new ways to commercialise science. In his role as GGM Commercial, he inspired the culture change required to increase commercialisation of research and championed new business models that provided security and growth for the organisation.

Royalties have grown from $13 million in 2009 to $58 million a year and now make up 30% of Plant & Food Research’s annual revenue.

The organisation has also established new commercialisation models, such as the Pacific Berries joint venture with Northwest Plant Company in the USA, and recently established spin out companies Scentian Bio and 2Before.

When David was appointed CEO, commercialisation was a key part of his vision and a Technology Development business unit was formed to identify and invest in research with commercialisation potential.

“It is very humbling and exciting to be named the inaugural winner of this award,” says David.

“Science can only make a difference when it is taken outside of the lab and used by others, but I believe it’s also important that a share of any financial benefits of research are reinvested to allow scientists to keep innovating. I’ve been very privileged to work with some great, forward-thinking scientists as well as those on the business side who can take that science into the world.”

Commercialisation Manager Darja Pavlovic-Nelson was winner of the Commercialisation Professional Award category. Darja has been a commercialisation manager since 2019 and in 2020 raised $1 million to spin out Scentian Bio, for which she is currently acting as Chief Commercial Officer.

Darja began her career in the IP team of Plant & Food Research, working with science teams and business managers to develop IP strategies that support and enable commercialisation. She was involved in identifying commercial opportunities and developing business cases for investment.

In this role, she first started working on the sensor technology that was spun out in late 2020 to create Scentian Bio.

Aureo®Gold, a biocontrol product for kiwifruit disease Psa, was winner of the Commercial Impact Award. Aureo®Gold, an environmentally-friendly product that reduces the growth and spread of the Psa bacteria, was launched in New Zealand by UPL in late 2018 and is now being evaluated for international use. Research is also under way to identify other possible plant disease targets.

The product, discovered by Plant & Food Research scientists, was developed for kiwifruit in collaboration with UPL, Zespri and KVH.

The high value, New Zealand marine collagen developed in collaboration with NanoLayr for its consumer product ActivLayr, was also a finalist in the Commercial Impact category. ActivLayr is a unique, collagen based nanofibre that delivers actives into the skin using DermaLayr platform technology.

The product has seen huge commercial success in South Korea as part of the K-Beauty industry, and is set to see significant future growth as other markets adopt DermaLayr technology.

The KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards are an annual event celebrating the achievements of individuals, teams and organisations actively commercialising publicly funded research. The 2021 Awards were held online, where finalists presented live to a panel of judges from across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

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