Updated on 25 April 2012
Dr John Ballard graduated with a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Western Australia and went to the Fels Research Institute in Philadelphia, US as a post-doctoral fellow and subsequently as an assistant professor. At this stage, his goal was to become a successful researcher and then to obtain ongoing funding to maintain a substantial research group. He returned to Australia in 1969 to join the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) division of Nutritional biochemistry in Adelaide. The CSIRO is Australia's national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. While at the CSIRO, he was able to achieve his initial aims and gradually became more focused on the potential outcome of his research for improving human health.
An important turning point in his life came from his research into peptide growth factors in which his group established and played a major role in stimulating growth via the inhibition of protein breakdown within cells. Although this research mostly involved studies in vitro on cells in culture, Dr Ballard had the opportunity to investigate whether a candidate drug might halt or reverse the progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in children, possibly by inhibiting muscle protein breakdown (Duchenne subjects lose muscle mass). While this project was not successful, it led to a more general interest in growth factors and their potential application in the treatment of conditions, such as AIDS.
Dr John Ballard's group successfully isolated and characterized a novel growth factor from cow colostrum with the subsequent goal of producing it recombinantly. Because the growth factor (des 1-3 IGF-I) was novel and was substantially more potent than its normal equivalent, insulin-like growth factor I or IGF-I, his group was able to file a patent on the sequence, manufacture and applications of this molecule. It was the commercialization of this invention that set his future career in the biotechnology industry. He set up GroPep in 1988 with the goal of progressing commercialization of the molecule. He is mentioned as an inventor on many of GroPep's patents and coordinated their prosecution and commercialization.
Recalling his early days of entreprenuership, Dr Ballard says, "The most important factor of my growth was my group's discovery, patenting and commercialization of the novel insulin-like growth factor through GroPep."
In 1988, he held two positions, one as a researcher in CSIRO and the second as CEO of GroPep. However, with the success of GroPep as a manufacturer and marketer of growth factors to researchers worldwide, Dr Ballard left CSIRO to become full-time CEO and managing director of the company. Over the 10-year period from when GroPep first commenced selling growth factors, the company grew to annual revenues of $10 million and nearly 100 staff members. The company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2000 with a market capitalization of $100 million. He left GroPep in 2002 to pursue his next goal as an angel investor and to establish BioAngels.
Today, GroPep Bioreagents sells growth factors and associated reagents to universities, institutional and industrial researchers, principally in the insulin-like growth factor area. Its product range consists of over 100 products and has a worldwide network of specialized distributors. In 2006, GroPep was acquired by Danish company Novozymes and became Novozymes GroPep Limited and then Novozymes Biopharma AU Limited. In 2010, GroPep Bioreagents was moved to a new facility managed by BioInnovation.