Dr Wade Kruger: Mixing science with business

To truly excel in translating biomedical research, one ideally has the business acumen to drive commercialisation but also a deep understanding of the science behind a novel therapy, diagnostic tool or medical device. Dr Wade Kruger is one person who has this alchemical combination.

Wade is currently a Commercialisation Officer for the joint initiative between CCRM Australia and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. At CCRM Australia ATTRACT, he can draw on the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge he has in basic science research, clinical research, project management and translation.

“We’re working on building out the research valet business model that we started quite a few years ago and to integrate that into the regenerative medicine space then. We’re focused on finding industry pathways for companies to get into Australia and find facilities to prepare components and manufacture while providing support around other areas such as IP and regulation. Having that scaling up capacity appears to be a rate-limiting step in the regenerative medicine sector in Australia.”

At the same time, CCRM Australia ATTRACT is also working to help Australian academic researchers commercialise their research, but as a former academic himself, Wade recognises the challenges in shifting the mindset of scientists working within a problematic funding-publication framework.

During his PhD in molecular physiology at The University of Queensland, Wade was fortunate to have a supervisor who helped instil in him an appreciation and the skill set to tackle each and every aspect of a career in science.

“I was very fortunate to work with a person who had the opinion that if you did your PhD, besides being the expert in your field, you also had to be a science expert. So you had to learn how to lecture, to tutor, how to run a lab, how to write a grant, how to budget and how to manage finances. So it was like a spectrum of being a scientist, as a tenured scientist, and I guess you could almost call it business-type training.”

Wade’s transition out of academia stemmed from his postdoctoral studies, where he began “tinkering” with the latest technology, developing assays and setting up screening facilities. His first taste of the commercial side of biomedical research came from some small assay development work at Fibrotech, a Melbourne-based pharma company. From there, he made a “conscious decision” and transitioned into more industry-aligned roles. Since then, he’s held a range of roles covering commercialisation, clinical trials and business development.

As someone who does not have an extensive background in regenerative medicine, Wade brings a refreshing and powerful ‘outsider’ perspective. With an eye on the bigger picture, Wade can spot cycles, patterns,  challenges, and limitations that feed into his insights into the current and future global regenerative medicine ecosystem.

“When I started in the clinical trials space, biologics like PD-1 and PDL-1 inhibitors were getting big. I thought, ‘these were things we were mucking around in the lab ten years ago.’ It was the same theory. While we were mucking around with antibody targeting on a different level and interfering with signalling- but it was the same principle. And now I am seeing something similar in regenerative medicine where products coming onto the market now were things we used to tinker around with in the lab. This was a ‘light switch’ moment for me because I see it now.”

Ultimately, working in CCRM Australia ATTRACT means combining both medicine, pharmacology, and molecular biology and the whole scope of commercialisation. Wade finds this both unique and intriguing and the reason why he is so passionate about the space.