Dr Ahmed Abdullah Azad passed his matriculation from St Placid High School in Chattogram and his Higher Secondary Certificate from Notre Dame College in Dhaka, earning first divisions in both examinations. He earned a first class in BSc(Hons) and a first class in MSc (Thesis) in Biochemistry from Dhaka University. He received talent scheme and merit scholarships during his studies at Dhaka University, and was awarded the DU Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Rank 1 in his batch.
After a short research stint at the Cholera Research Laboratory (now ICDDR,B), and while working at the Atomic Energy Commission, he won a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and left Dhaka towards the end of 1970 to study for a PhD at University of Toronto in the Department of Biochemistry. After completing his PhD at the end of 1973, he earned a Canadian Medical Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship that allowed him to continue his research till his return to Dhaka in mid-1975. In November 1975 Dr Azad left for Australia to take up an academic position in the Research School of Biological Sciences at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where he honed and strengthened his knowledge and expertise in the new genetic engineering and recombinant DNA technologies. Dr Azad’s research in Toronto and Canberra led to a clear understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the reversible association of the large and small ribosomal subunits during protein synthesis.
In September 1980 Dr Azad joined the CSIRO Division of Protein Chemistry (later renamed Biotechnology and then Biomolecular Engineering) and stayed there till December 1999. He joined as a Senior Research Scientist, rapidly rose through the ranks and became a Chief Research Scientist and Head of Molecular Virology in 1990. Simultaneously he held the position of Foundation Head of the HIV/AIDS drug discovery program in the Biomolecular Research Institute in Melbourne. While at CSIRO, Dr Azad was invited to present the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at the 75th Anniversary Conference of the Indian Chemical Society and appointed an Honorary Professor at the Ambedkar Biomedical Research Centre at Delhi University.
Dr Azad’s first major research project at CSIRO involved the cloning and sequencing of the Influenza Virus Neuraminidase, which allowed its 3D structure to be solved and led to the development of a structure-based and rationally designed drug, Relenza, that inhibits all strains of Influenza A and B viruses. Dr Azad’s second major research project at CSIRO was to characterise, clone and sequence the two genomic segments of double-stranded RNA of Infectious Bursal Disease Virus (IBDV) and identify the host protective immunogen. This led to the production and commercialisation of a very successful recombinant subunit vaccine against IBDV for which Dr Azad was awarded the highly prestigious CSIRO Chairman’s Gold Medal and Prize for exceptional achievement. The third major project undertaken by Dr Azad was to study the molecular basis of HIV-AIDS pathogenesis. Dr Azad and his research team conclusively showed that HIV accessory proteins Nef and Vpr are directly involved in HIV pathogenesis and developed specific drugs that arrest progression to AIDS.
Dr Azad’s research resulted in over 130 peer reviewed publications in international journals, many book chapters, 10 patents, over 300 conference presentations, and more than 100 invited lectures. He has received over AU$ 15 million in research grants. In recognition of his contribution to research and research management, Dr Azad has been elected a Fellow of five different national and international Science Academies: The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Islamic-World Academy of Sciences (IAS), Bangladesh Academy of Sciences (BAS), Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), and Royal Society of South Africa. He was elected Secretary General of IAS in 2017. He has held many Honorary Professorships and advisory positions in Bangladesh, India and South Africa.
In the late 1990s Dr Azad was elected, as Bangladesh’s official nominee, as a Member of the Council of Scientific Advisors of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), an UN organisation consisting of 56 developed and developing countries, and served three successive three-year terms on the CSA. Among many other benefits to Bangladesh, this provided an opportunity to establish the fruitful collaboration between ICGEB and Incepta Pharmaceuticals that has led to technology transfer from ICGEB to Incepta, and the production of valuable Biosimilars in Bangladesh from molecular clones obtained from ICGEB.
In January 2000 Dr Azad joined the University of Cape Town (UCT) as Professor of Medical Biotechnology and took up the newly created position of Director of Research in the Faculty of Health Sciences at UCT in Cape Town, South Africa. His main involvement was in research management, research capacity development, and creating an enabling research atmosphere for young African biomedical, clinical and public health scientists. He played a critical role in establishing The Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine at UCT and the Third Component of the ICGEB in Cape Town. He also served as a Board Member of the Medical Research Council of South Africa, and as a scientific advisor of CAPRISA, a network of AIDS researchers in South Africa.
After retiring in 2007, Dr Azad has given his time (pro bono) to developing research capacity in molecular biosciences in Bangladesh through the following honorary positions: TWAS Research Professor at BRAC University; TWAS Research Professor at Dhaka University; Incepta Visiting Professor at Dhaka University; and Incepta Distinguished Professor at Bangladesh University of Health Sciences. Since 2007 Dr Azad has helped organise four international Biotechnology conferences in Bangladesh, and the 19th Conference of the IAS in Dhaka in 2013. He is a founding member of GNOBB and CARES in Bangladesh.