PROFILE - Barry Marshall:Barry’s noble pursuit

AS a Nobel laureate, Barry Marshall's name is listed alongside a who's who of science luminaries including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Ivan Pavlov.
For some, winning a prize of such stature would lead into a comfortable retirement, with little left to achieve in their career.
But for Dr Marshall, life has become a lot more hectic since he and his Royal Perth Hospital and University of Western Australia colleague, Robin Warren, became the state's first Nobel Prize winners.
His job title now encompasses his continuing duties as a Nobel laureate, university professor, researcher, business entrepreneur, medical doctor and federal government-appointed ambassador for the life sciences.
That's not to mention his hobby in electronics, his recent foray in to wine making on his weekend getaway property, and his constant battle to find the time for his role as a proud father and grandfather.
Asked what he does in his spare time, Dr Marshall said he is "working on cloning himself'', in an acknowledgement of how thinly his time is spread.
One of his major pursuits is Perth-based medical research company Ondek, which was set up five years ago.
Ondek is in the early days of developing an oral flu vaccine, and looking at its function, it is no wonder the company requires so much of Dr Marshall's time.
Ondek's scientists are currently working on getting to know the Helicobacter Pylori bacteria he and Dr Warren discovered in the early 1980s.
"We are systematically removing all the bits of DNA, studying each one and then reassembling it the way we want, it's like trying to disassemble a jumbo jet and put it back together," Dr Marshall said.
But despite the complexity of his work and his obvious capabilities, Dr Marshall is modest when discussing his achievements.
"I don't necessarily think I am the smartest person out there and I don't think you have to be absolutely at the top to win a Nobel Prize; you might be in the right place at the right time and see something that nobody else has seen," he said, acknowledging the role serendipity has played in his career.
In the early days of commercialising his diagnostic product off the back of the bacteria discovery, Dr Marshall learned a valuable lesson in business - not to pay attention to stereotypes.
Although inexperienced in the ways of multinational business practices, Dr Marshall embarked on a relationship with the American pharmaceuticals giant Proctor and Gamble in the early 1990s.
"US multinational companies are often stereotyped as being corrupt in some way, but that was never my experience, they were very ethical. I always felt I was given a fair go," said Dr Marshall, who received an initial lump sum payout from P&G and gets ongoing royalties from sales of the product developed out of the partnership.
The Nobel laureate highlighted the importance of creating mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with business partners, commenting on the role P&G have played in his career.
"If I needed to collaborate or develop a relationship with P&G now, I still know people there," he said.
Having spent the past 30 years travelling the world with his research, it would be fair to call Dr Marshall an authority on the growth of Perth's medical research industry,
He said Melbourne has traditionally been the powerhouse of Australian medical research, but Perth has many attractive qualities it should capitalise on in order to grow the industry.
"I would say we should be able to develop a number of premium health research activities in Perth that could create envy for the once prosperous medical industry of Melbourne and other eastern states," Dr Marshall told WA Business News.
He said Perth shouldn't be paranoid about starting late in the medical research game, but warned that for WA to succeed in this space, the government would have to support the industry.
"The bureaucracy we have in place running health and medical research is stodgy, it needs some life breathed in to it," Dr Marshall said.
As for his own opportunities, Dr Marshall tends to follow the advice of his fellow Nobel laureates, going by the saying that "a Nobel prize will get you through any door ... once".


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