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Professor of Paediatric Cancer Research & Program Head, Cancer

Professor Johns was appointed Head of the Telethon Kids Institute Cancer Centre in 2017.  He brings with him a strong track record in translational research and extensive national and international collaborative networks, including important relationships with major pharmaceutical companies. He has maintained a stable and well-funded laboratory for over 20 years and has supervised and mentored many students and early career researchers with diverse interests and backgrounds.

Professor Johns and the Cancer Centre’s team of talented researchers, clinicians and students are committed to improving the outcomes for children with cancer and expanding the Cancer Centre’s global profile and impact through cutting edge research.

Career history

After completing a PhD in 1993 at Monash University in the Department of Biochemistry, Professor Johns joined La Trobe University’s Neuroimmunology Laboratory as a Postdoctoral Fellow. During his time there, he helped develop a new model of multiple sclerosis that remains in use around the world today. In 1998, Professor Johns commenced as a Research Fellow at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and went on to establish the Oncogenic Signalling Laboratory. The focus of his laboratory was the development of antibodies that target receptors on the surface of cancer cells important to their survival and growth. In particular, Professor Johns played a key role in the development of mAb 806 (now known as ABT-414), a novel antibody that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and is currently in late stage clinical trials.

Professor Johns moved his oncogenic signalling laboratory to the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in 2008, and he was based there until his recent appointment at the Telethon Kids Institute. In Perth, his laboratory continues to analyse the key signalling pathways associated with the growth of glioma, an aggressive and generally lethal type of brain cancer, to guide the development of new drugs and therapeutic antibodies. Reflecting his strong track record in translational research, Professor Johns has had key roles in many clinical trials, including the Australian CABARET trial for patients with recurrent high-grade glioma. Recently, he extended his expertise in cancer therapy to developing new treatments for ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition in which the foetus is implanted outside the uterus. These new treatments are also now in late phase clinical trials. Professor Johns has received funding from some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical and biotech companies, including Pfizer, Roche and Amgen, for preclinical and clinical testing of drug candidates.

Professor Johns has worked hard to bring the Australian brain cancer research community together and accelerate the drug translation process. In 2012, he founded the Brain Cancer Discovery Collaborative, an Australia-wide consortium of researchers and clinicians dedicated to ensuring that promising therapeutic discoveries are translated into the clinic for the treatment of patients with brain cancer.

His current research interests include the following:

  • understanding the biology and intracellular signalling properties of EGFR and other receptor tyrosine kinases in high-grade glioma
  • identifying mechanisms of resistance to EGFR-targeted therapies
  • characterizing the role of ErbB4 in high-grade glioma
  • evaluating CT-179, a new drug that targets OLIG2, a transcription factor that has a central role in many brain cancers
  • determining whether ion-channels influence the response to brain cancer therapeutics