MacDiarmid Institute affiliated people fill the leaderboard of annual KiwiNet Awards » The MacDiarmid Institute
MacDiarmid Institute affiliated people fill the leaderboard of annual KiwiNet Awards

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MacDiarmid Institute affiliated people fill the leaderboard of annual KiwiNet Awards

8 June, 2020

Six of the KiwiNet awards finalists this year were MacDiarmid Institute affiliated; our researchers, Board members and CEOs of affiliated start-up companies. MacDiarmid people won three award categories as well as the KiwiNet BNZ Supreme Award.

Since 2016 there have been eight different MacDiarmid Institute Investigators, alumni and start- up leaders as finalists for KiwiNet awards across ‘Breakthrough’ and ‘Entrepreneur’ categories, winning four category awards and two supreme awards.

BNZ Supreme Award

Winner - Distinguished Professor Dame Margaret BrimbleCo-founder of SapVax.

Norman Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator

Winner - Dr Shalen Kumar, Former CEO of Auramer Bio Limited

Finalist - Dr Brendan DarbyCEO of Marama Labs Limited

Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur

Winner - Distinguished Professor Dame Margaret Brimble

Finalist - Dr Leonardo NegronCTO of Hi-Aspect Limited

MinterEllisonRuddWatts Commercialisation Professional

Winner - Will CharlesExecutive Director Commercialisation Uniservices and MacDiarmid Institute Board member

Finalist - Geoff ToddPrevious Managing Director Viclink and MacDiarmid Institute Board member


Dr Shalen Kumar, former CEO of Auramer Bio, was the recipient of the KiwiNet Norman Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator category. Auramer Bio supports biosensor solutions for roadside, workplace and environmental testing and provides aptamer development for partner platforms across electrochemical, lateral flow, and microfluidic systems.

“We want to be the leaders in custom diagnostics development, making sure that our components are integrated into other companies’ products globally.”

AuramerBio is able to rapidly design, develop and synthesise new bespoke single-stranded DNA bio-receptors, called aptamers. With a broad range of components already on the market, Shalen is always on the lookout for new technical challenges to solve that will continue to set AuramerBio ahead of the international competition.

We want to be the leaders in custom diagnostics development, making sure that our components are integrated into other companies’ products globally.

Dr Shalen Kumar Former CEO of Auramer Bio


SapVax is based on the licensed intellectual property developed by Distinguished Professor Dame Margaret Brimble (MacDiarmid Associate Investigator), Professor Rod Dunbar and Dr Geoff Williams. The company is dedicated to the development and commercialisation of a pipeline of powerful, self-adjuvanting peptide-based cancer vaccines.

Their proprietary platform consists of highly specific TLR2 agonist adjuvants which can be covalently conjugated to virtually any synthetic peptide antigen in a rapid and cost-effective manufacturing process. SapVax has 2 lead programs, 1) SVX-ESO which targets the cancer testis antigen, NY-ESO-1, which is commonly overexpressed in ovarian cancer and 2) SVX-NEO, a discovery stage personalized neoantigen cancer vaccine.

SapVax plans to identify its lead candidate Q1 2020 and conduct GLP safety and toxicology studies, CMC/GMP and clinical site reviews Q3-4 2020. Additionally, SapVax intends to secure a co-development deal with a neoantigen company in Q2 2020 to develop SVX-NEO. In the next year, SapVax aims to secure $25M in Series A financing to progress SVX-ESO through IND-filing and completion of Phase 1 clinical safety and immunogenicity and SVX-NEO through IND-filing.

Hi-Aspect Limited

Hi-Aspect is commercialising protein nanofibril technology for a range of over-the-counter medicated skin care and wound care applications with a current focus on the acne market.

CTO Dr Leonardo Negron, KiwiNet finalist in the Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur category, demonstrates the value of cross- disciplinary experience in leading the technical development of a highly regulated product. With his training and experience spanning clinical pharmacy, drug development and medical diagnostics R&D, he is well placed to manage the complexity of a technical development programme in a deep tech startup.

This experience enables him to lead the company’s development programme through regulatory compliance, as well as addressing the interplay between product design, customer feedback and product efficacy. Leonardo has valued being able to tap into the experienced commercialisation support networks locally and believes New Zealand entrepreneurs who seek out experienced advisors and highly qualified graduates will be well positioned to succeed.

For 2020 Hi-Aspect will be raising further capital to fund market expansion and new product development for its “over the counter” pharmacy range and seeking licensees for its Fibraspect300 ingredient in applications outside of human health.

The MacDiarmid intern we received was a highly valuable asset for Hi-Aspect, they were well skilled in nanotech and were able to “just get on with it” with minimal further training from me.

Dr Leonardo Negron Hi-Aspect Limited CTO

Marama Labs

Marama Labs is developing world-first technologies that are pushing the boundaries of how spectroscopy is applied to industry challenges. The company is taking on a new staff member to further develop, test and calibrate their CloudSpec instruments,
as they move from prototype to market ready-product. The CloudSpec instruments have been developed to deliver simultaneous measurement of absorption, extinction and scattering spectra in clear and turbid liquids and have been validated in the wine industry.

Being a deep tech startup, the team are comfortable collaborating with a top research group in Australia one day and applying their technology in partnership with a wine producer the next. With 2020 being the year to roll out the launch of CloudSpec, the team are making progress on engaging a European distribution partner.

It's awesome to be able to contribute to New Zealand's economic success and have scientific talent working in a deep tech startup solving quality problems in the wine industry.

Dr Brendan Darby Marama Labs CEO