After completing a PhD in biochemistry at Melbourne University, Russell worked at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in molecular parasitology, and then continued on the molecular basis for cerebral malaria in humans for many years in the USA (nine years at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland; five years at DNAX-Schering-Plough and five years at Affymax, both in Palo Alto, California) until he published the structural and genetic basis for the pathology.
He also worked at GlaxoSmithKline on technology transfer for combinatorial small molecule discovery chemistry for three years.
Russell moved entirely into biotechnology industry management with the creation of Maxygen, a company he took public after 18 months and raised $100MM at IPO on NASDAQ and another $150MM at a secondary offering. He consummated more than 30 corporate deals across diverse industries and led teams that ultimately led to more than 50 products sold today that bear the label “Maxygen inside”.
While CEO of Maxygen over 12 years, he helped spin out and sell an agriculture business, a chemicals and pharmaceuticals manufacturing business and a protein pharmaceuticals drug discovery business. He also led the purchase of a Danish protein drug development business in Copenhagen and full integration of this company into Maxygen.
He left Maxygen in 2009 to create Oakbio, a cleantech company in California, then, after more than 30 years in the USA, returned to Australia in 2012. Russell currently serves on two public company boards as non-executive director (Circadian and Prima Biomed) and on one private company board as executive chairman (NeuClone, making biosimilar monoclonal antibodies). He works at the Garvan Institute's Kinghorn Centre for Clinincal Genomics with the goal to assist commercialisation of genomics technologies as products and services.
One of his most impactful achievements has been a simple diagnostic kit used across the tropics for over 17 years for detection of the human malaria Plasmodium falciparum, a product derived from an unusual circulating blood antigen that he cloned and characterised in a side project.
Marsh, K., and Howard, R.J.: Antigens induced on erythrocytes by natural Plasmodium falciparum infections: Expression of antigenically diverse and conserved determinants. Science 1986; 231: 150-153.
Baruch, D. I., Pasloske, B. L., Singh, H. B., Bi, X., Ma, X.C., Feldman, M., Taraschi, T.F. and Howard, R. J. Cloning the Plasmodium falciparum gene encoding PfEMP1, a malarial variant antigen and adherence receptor on the surface of parasitized human erythrocytes. Cell 1995; 82: 89-100.