Jun 06, 2022

MedTech Actuator 2021 Menzies Scholar: Dr Anushi Rajapaksa

MedTech Actuator 2021 Menzies Scholar: Dr Anushi Rajapaksa

MedTech Actuator 2021 Menzies Scholar: Dr Anushi Rajapaksa

MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholar Dr Anush Rajapaksa is fusing science, research commercialisation and entrepreneurship by developing rapid, life-saving drug delivery for children with infectious respiratory disease.

Dr Anushi Rajapaksa is a Senior Research Officer, at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne and more recently a graduate researcher within GSK, Melbourne. Anushi leads large, international, interdisciplinary research projects as the inventor of several newborn technologies. She is also the Founder of a not-for-profit organization, Think Projectthat helps to facilitate the transfer of STEM solutions to low resource settings. She has recently founded “Vitality by Dr Anushi” to cultivate her love of nutrition inspired by nature.

Turning needle phobia into an idea

Anushi says that she was on a personal mission to design ways to deliver vaccines and other therapeutics to the lungs non-invasively due to her phobia of needles. Anushi discovered and developed a new technology in the form of a nebulizer that enables a liquid vaccine to be inhaled, rather than injected.

“Growing up, I had a significant needle phobia. You could almost say that I was on a personal mission to invest in a career to explore alternative ways of medication delivery – vaccines in particular. Delivering medications to the body through the lungs seemed like a no brainer to me”, says Anushi

Anushi working in the lab developing novel, non-invasive solutions for drug delivery.
Anushi working in the lab developing novel, non-invasive solutions for drug delivery.

A new frontier in pain-free therapies

Anushi’s research has focused on RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), the most common cause of acute, lower respiratory infection in young children under 5 years of age. Preterm infants are at significantly increased risk of severe RSV disease. There is no RSV vaccine and the only preventive treatment is passive protection with Palivizumab, an RSV-specific monoclonal antibody (mAb). However, this is costly (A$7,500 per course) and requires repeated injections throughout the RSV transmission season. In Australia, its use is restricted to only preterm infants with complications such as severe pulmonary hypertension and chronic lung disease.

“The aim is to develop a novel, non-invasive solution and solve the problem by delivering a first-in-class, low-cost device that is effective in protecting our children.”

Science, research commercialisation, and entrepreneurship with the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship

The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship encourages the next generation of health leaders to build strong foundations in commercialisation. In doing so, this program supports the scientific community’s capacity to bring innovation to the market by facilitating knowledge transfer from industry to scientists and researchers.

As a 2021 MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholar, Anushi was exposed to the ecosystem, built strong foundations in commercialisation and took home the MedTech Actuator People’s Choice Award in MedTech Actuator Origin.

The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship Experience

As a part of the Scholarship experience, recipients overcome their knowledge gaps with the support provided during intensive sprints and 1:1 coaching.

“The biggest struggle I have overcome is facing my own doubts and the unknowns regarding advancing my area of scientific passion and working through them one by one. It is a unique journey worth taking as it has certainly been transformative and personally rewarding to me. I may not have all the answers yet, but realising some fundamental questions that need head-on attention is a very good start,” says Anushi.

“I felt right at home with the friendly and resourceful team at the MedTech Actuator. It was the right amount of challenge and inspiration to take action on a vision I had been working on for over a decade. I am confident that the skills and experiences I gained through this unique program will help me make advances.”

Scholars receive access to the MedTech Actuator Origin intensive sprint and see, first-hand, what it takes to launch a healthcare venture. Anushi’s vision is to position her research to best serve a community that needs it the most through commercialisation. Whilst undertaking the Scholarship, Anushi also took The Think Project through MedTech Actuator Origin.

Dr Anushi Rajapaksa, The Think Project, with Georgia Downing and Charles Aitken, Gild, and Tim Tyndale, Quitta.
Dr Anushi Rajapaksa, The Think Project, with Georgia Downing and Charles Aitken, Gild, and Tim Tyndale, Quitta.

When embarking on a four-month scholarship, recipients gain knowledge from leading industry experts, work alongside Australia’s emerging healthcare entrepreneurs and receive mentorship from MedTech Actuator.

“I would like to thank my team, Mr. Sanjeeva Rajapaksa, Prof. James Friend, Ashica Sood, Mayomi Samarawickrama  Mallawaarachchi, Shamal Wijeweera and Ashleigh Allan, for their support in realising our vision. I also want to recognise the support provided by Dr Buzz Palmer and my mentor Richard Sokolov and the MedTech Actuator Team for numerous discussions and advice throughout the program and beyond,” says Anushi.

Are you a future MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholar?

Apply now- MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship
Apply now- MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship 2022

The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship is an opportunity for scientists, researchers and innovators to explore the world of entrepreneurship, research commercialisation and MedTech, BioTech and HealthTech startups. 

Applications are now open for the 2022 program. Find out more about the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship and apply today.

You can also join MedTech Actuator Program and Community Coordinator, Makenzie Thomas for the Ask Me Anything session for any questions related to the scholarship. Register here.

The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship is supported by the Menzies Foundation as part of their Entrepreneurship in Science mission.