Vale Dr Geoffrey Symonds

News | Published on 25 Jun 2021

It is with great sadness that the Kirby Institute joins our colleagues at CSL and beyond in mourning the loss of Dr Geoffrey Symonds, a leader in gene therapy development, who passed away overnight after a short illness.

Dr Symonds was one of Australia’s leading cellular and molecular biologists who has made an enormous impact on the development of cell-delivered gene therapy for HIV in a career spanning over 30 years. He led the development of a novel HIV therapy from the mid 90s onwards based on basic scientific discoveries made in Australia, through pre-clinical development, and then through a series of clinical studies culminating in a Phase 2 trial. At the time it was the only successful gene therapy trial for HIV conducted anywhere in the world. 

He was a great friend and mentor, having fostered the careers of many younger scientists and clinicians both in academia and in the commercial world. Through his career, Dr Symonds was deeply committed to supporting and mentoring the next generation of scientists and clinicians, and through his thoughtful and practical mentorship, helped boost the early careers of many young people. 

Kirby Institute Director Professor Anthony Kelleher worked with Dr Symonds for over 20 years, having closely collaborated on HIV cell and gene therapy research between their respective laboratories and teams. He said that Dr Symonds was a staunch advocate for Australian research. “Geoff always flew the flag for Australian science and scientists globally, particularly in the US,” Prof. Kelleher said. “Despite being head hunted by overseas firms, he has always insisted that his research and development teams remain located in Australia, thus providing a vehicle for the development of local expertise capacity building and bolstering local Australian outputs to this important area of scientific discovery, which has a global impact. His contribution to Australian medical science was enormous.” He was a dynamic, collaborative presence within the St Vincent’s Research Precinct in Darlinghurst for the last 20 years.

Dr Symonds was a strong advocate for equitable access to lifesaving medical interventions. Being acutely aware of the current extreme costs of gene therapy, and the significant barrier to equitable access this creates, Dr Symonds championed, particularly over the last five years, the development of practical innovations aimed at making the delivery of gene therapy more highly standardised, cheaper and therefore more accessible. While he had many international partnerships, he worked effectively with scientists at UNSW, clinicians at St Vincent’s, and local industry partners to drive this vision and has left as his legacy, strong, highly collaborative partnerships between academia and industry to rapidly progress this aim. 

"Geoff was a true leader, managing to straddle academia and industry with apparent ease. He was thoughtful and determined, and always strove to make a real difference. His grace, humour, insight and intellect will be sorely missed,” Prof. Kelleher said.

The Kirby Institute extends our deepest condolences to Dr Symonds’ family, friends and colleagues.