Meet the team leading SPARK Melbourne at the University of Melbourne

Professor Darren Kelly - Co-Director, SPARK Melbourne

Chief Executive Officer, Certa Therapeutics and Associate Dean (Innovation and Enterprise), MDHS, University of Melbourne

Darren is the Associate Dean (Innovation and Enterprise, MDHS) at The University of Melbourne, the Director of Innovation and Enterprise at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and Director of Biomedical Research in the Department of Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, where his research expertise lies in progressing pre-clinical novel interventions and developing experimental models of cardiovascular disease. Concurrent to his role with The University of Melbourne, Darren is the CEO and Managing Director of Certa Therapeutics and Occurx, Australia, bringing over 25 years of management and research expertise in the life sciences and biotech sector. He has published over 200 manuscripts in the field of translational research and novel interventions many of which have had a direct impact on human disease. In 2015 Darren joined the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund as Venture Partner.  Darren has proven history in translational research. He was previously Founder, CEO and Director of Fibrotech Therapeutics, a company that developed orally active anti-fibrotic inhibitors to treat underlying pathological fibrosis in kidney and heart failure, which was ultimately acquired by Shire Plc for a record 75 million USD upfront including milestone payments up to 600 million USD.  Darren has a PhD in Translational Medicine from the University of Melbourne.

Dr. Lauren Ayton - Co-Director, SPARK Melbourne

Senior Research Fellow, Dept of Optometry and Vision Sciences, University of Melbourne

Lauren is a Senior Research Fellow and clinician-scientist with appointments in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences and Department of Surgery (Ophthalmology) at the University of Melbourne. Her research expertise is in retinal disease, low vision and vision restoration. In particular, Lauren has led clinical programs of a number of vision prosthesis (bionic eye) implants. She was the Clinical Team Leader of the Bionic Vision Australia consortium between 2010 and 2017, and remains a Chief Investigator on that project. She is a Chief Investigator on the Monash Vision Group cortical implant program. In 2017, Dr Ayton accepted a position in industry as the Director of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs for Bionic Eye Technologies, a USA startup company affiliated with Harvard and Cornell Universities. This position provided experience in FDA regulatory processes, business strategic planning and investor relations. Her expertise in medical devices spans research to commercialisation, and she is passionate about innovation in the University sector. Dr Ayton returned to Melbourne in 2019 to lead her own research team investigating vision restoration and rehabilitation. In addition to her research, Dr Ayton is a regular science commentator, including 3RRR radio, ABC radio and other media forms.

Dr. Premila Paiva - Operations Manager, SPARK Melbourne

Senior Project Officer, MDHS, University of Melbourne

Premila is a Senior Project Officer in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne (UoM). Her role is to drive initiatives that support the translation of medical research into outcomes with health and economic impact (including through commercialisation) working closely with the Research, Innovation and Commercialisation Office at UoM.

Prior to this Premila had an academic research career with over 15 years’ experience focusing on Women’s Reproductive Health disorders including endometriosis and infertility, based at UoM and the Royal Women’s Hospital.  She currently serves on the Operations Committee of Accelerating Australia, a national consortium of biomedical research institutions, universities, healthcare providers to support cross-sector, multi-disciplined collaboration. She also has a keen interest in science advocacy and served as the chair of the Australian Society of Medical Research Committee (Victorian Branch) in 2018.

Dr. Andy Allen - Project Manager, SPARK Melbourne

Senior Academic Fellow, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Melbourne

Andy is a Senior Academic Fellow in the School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, at the University of Melbourne. Andy has over 15 years’ experience working in small biotech and large pharma as a project leader, bringing products to market and an external opportunity scout for Zoetis, formerly Pfizer Animal Health, in Australia. Prior to this Andy had an academic research career focusing on microbial pathogenesis, based at Imperial College, London, and the University of Cambridge, UK.

Andy’s role at the University of Melbourne is to support and develop cutting edge academic research into translatable outcomes, whilst working closely with business development colleagues to identify avenues to support translational activities. Andy is a passionate supporter of the SPARK Melbourne program working with Dr. Premila Paiva to deliver a successful program and promote translational research delivering improved health outcomes.