Next Biosciences’ Dr Nick Walker is off to Silicon Valley

By Next Biosciences

11 April 2016

Winner of first South African Global Impact Competition presents an innovative concept to address HIV/AIDS.

Johannesburg, 8 April 2016 – Dr Nick Walker, Innovation Scientist at Next Biosciences and the winner of the first South African Global Impact Competition travels to Silicon Valley’s Singularity University in June with an interesting concept for a stem cell bank that will process, edit, store and dispense stem cells to cure HIV/AIDS.

Inspired by international research into gene editing and stem cell therapies, combined with the potential for stem cell banks to scale, Dr Walker proposed establishing a bank to store gene-edited stem cells from umbilical cord blood as a possible transfusion therapy for HIV/AIDS patients.

His idea so impressed the eminent panel of judges that he was awarded the only place for South Africans in Singularity University’s 2016 Global Solutions Programme.

It was while working at Next Biosciences that Dr Walker developed his concept.

“My interest in the pioneering research into gene editing for curing HIV/AIDS, currently underway around the world, led me to consider the next steps once this research results in a replicable therapy,” says Dr Walker, Innovation Scientist at Next Biosciences.

“This interest, combined with my experience in the industry of processing and storing umbilical cord blood, resulted in the idea of a large-scale bank with the necessary facilities to process and store the vast amount of stem cells that would make this potential treatment for HIV/AIDS feasible.”

CEO of Next Biosciences, Kim Hulett, says that Dr Walker’s proposal presents a fascinating vision of stem cell banking and therapy. “We are immensely excited about the opportunity that has been granted to Dr Walker and are fully supportive of his endeavours as he explores his idea through the Global Solutions Programme,” she says.

Global Impact Competitions are annual competitions held worldwide to identify outstanding entrepreneurs, leaders, scientists and engineers with the most innovative ideas for positively impacting millions of lives locally and globally within the next three to five years. The winners attend Singularity University’s 2016 Global Solutions Programme.

Dr Walker will attend the intensive 10-week course designed to educate, empower and prepare today’s brightest minds to use exponential technology to solve the world’s greatest challenges in the areas of health, water, food, environment, learning, space, energy, disaster resilience, governance, security, and prosperity.

“Finding a cure for HIV/AIDS is a vast collaborative effort by a multi-disciplinary, international group of scientists, doctors, geneticists and other experts in a variety of fields. It has to be because finding a cure is so complex,” says Dr Walker.
“Winning this competition and attending Singularity University is so exciting because now I have the opportunity to explore, through access to that community, whether this idea can work. Attending the programme enables introductions, conversations and collaboration that would have been almost impossible otherwise and may well fast-track a ‘proof of concept’.”

Singularity University was founded in 2008 by Dr Peter H. Diamandis, Founder and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation and International Space University (ISU) and Ray Kurzweil, futurist, author, and a Director of Engineering at Google.

Dr Walker was selected from 48 entries to the local competition and will join a small group of around 25 international participants for this year’s Global Solutions Programme, thanks to local competition sponsor Rand Merchant Bank. On his return from the course, he will be supported by the new business incubator established by Rand Merchant Bank and First National Bank.

“The opportunity to meet with, and potentially work with, the leaders of this field is thrilling, and I am humbled by this recognition of my concept,” he says. “Contributing to finding a potential cure for HIV/AIDS, in any small way, with these colleagues would be an indescribable honour.”

Brief biography

Dr Nick Walker BSc (Hons, cum laude)

Innovation Scientist, Next Biosciences

Nick completed his BSc, BSc (Hons, Cum Laude) and PhD (submitted) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. In his PhD work, he focussed on the role of the extracellular matrix (ECM) on various aspects of myogenesis. Nick is employed at Next Biosciences as an Innovation Scientist, researching and developing future health possibilities that combine medicine, science and technology.