Developing Malaria Vaccine – an example of a U21 Joint PhD

Christopher Haggarty-Weir’s aim was to be part of the top malaria research in the world and to help validate vaccine targets for pre-clinical development and beyond. Thanks to a U21 joint PhD programme between the University of Melbourne and the University of Edinburgh, he not only achieved this goal, but also went on to become the co-founder and Director of a stem cell technology company in Edinburgh (SpectCell) and founder of a biotech start-up and investment consultancy and he has now been acquired by the Dutch multinational firm, ttopstart and the PNO Consulting group as a life science consultant.

Christopher Haggarty-Weir
Dr Christopher Haggarty-Weir (L) & Professor Alan Cowman

Dr Haggarty-Weir completed a U21 joint PhD in Medicine and Chemistry between the University of Melbourne (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute) and the University of Edinburgh (School of Chemistry) under the supervision of Professor Alan Cowman, FRS, AC. U21 creates and nurtures international knowledge exchange and as a result of an ongoing collaboration between Professor Cowman at the University of Melbourne and Professor Paul Barlow at the University of Edinburgh, Christopher was able to complete his PhD in Edinburgh. The collaboration with Edinburgh, and eventually also working with The University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry allowed him to specialise further and become more competitive.

The focus of Christopher’s research was malaria vaccine development. He was specifically looking at the molecular structures of novel vaccine candidates in order to bioengineer effective vaccines against the most lethal strain of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum.

At the end of his PhD Christopher decided to explore the business side of science taking an MBA programme focused on research commercialisation (in Melbourne) and a Business and Enterprise training course (in Edinburgh) which has led him to become both a successful scientist and businessman. Christopher concludes, 'I am very grateful to all those who helped me along the way, including U21 which facilitated this connection which allowed me to benefit from working with three of their outstanding members. I have sharpened and honed my business acumen thanks to the unique blend of training courses and programmes, making me better be able to frame the impact of research not only from a healthcare perspective but from an economic one.'

Christopher has set up a scholarship in his name at his undergraduate alma mater (University of the Sunshine Coast) that helps fund STEM students experiencing financial hardship, believing that there is a moral imperative for those who achieve some measure of success to give back.  

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