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Mark Sullivan, VIC, Australian of the year 2019

Developer of affordable medicines
Victoria, 2019 Australian of the Year

Mark Sullivan founded Medicines Development for Global Health, a not-for-profit biopharmaceutical company that develops affordable medicines and vaccines for those who need them most. He leads a dedicated team committed to treating and eradicating neglected tropical diseases that affect the world’s most disadvantaged people.

Gift of Sight sculpture

Statue of a boy in a loin cloth leading a man wearing robes. The boy holds a stick in his right hand. The other end of the stick is held by the man.
Gift of Sight sculpture, about 1994, by RT Wallen, on loan from Professor Hugh Taylor, chosen by Mark Sullivan, developer of affordable medicines, Victoria, 2019 Australian of the Year

Mark is in the business of improving lives. His company, Medicines Development for Global Health, is dedicated to producing affordable medicines and vaccines to treat neglected tropical diseases.

They have recently contributed to the development of moxidectin, a new treatment for ‘river blindness’, which is a leading cause of preventable blindness.

This sculpture depicts a common sight in African countries: a young boy leading a blind man. A life-sized version of the statue stands at the entrance to the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva.

Motivation

The Gift of Sight statue in Geneva is 1.8 metres tall. Placed opposite the main entrance [to the WHO office] it confronts everyone with the impact of river blindness on both the adult’s and child’s lives. I was awestruck by it, particularly in making very real the impact of the disease on people, and it was critical to motivating me to take on the development of moxidectin.

Ongoing encouragement

This rare small-scale version belongs to Professor Hugh Taylor, a global leader in the field of ophthalmology. It was awarded to him in recognition of his pivotal role in making the subject of the sculpture an increasingly rarer scene in Africa. He is a role model for me and I cannot thank him enough for his encouragement and for loaning this precious statue to share with you.

A cast of thousands

FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approval is a momentous achievement for any biopharmaceutical company, but it is a particularly rare and exciting event in the neglected diseases setting. It takes a broad community to develop a new medicine. Final approval represents decades of work by thousands of scientists, disease control specialists, expert advisors, community health workers, funders and study participants.

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images courtesy National Australia Day Council.

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