DR MAX SHEPHERD – Companion of the New Zealand order of Merit for services to biotechnology and business

Acknowledgements of career achievements are one of the greatest highlights in your life, Wanaka resident Dr Maxwell Gilbert (Max) Shepherd says.

Dr Shepherd was made a Companion of the New Zealand order of Merit for services to biotechnology and business in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours.

“I feel very humbled and very privileged to be recognised and it ranked alongside being recognised as a fellow of the Royal Society.

“The best recognition you can have as scientists in New Zealand is being made a member as there are only a few hundred,” he said.

Reflecting on his life’s work so far, Dr Shepherd said he had had two major careers, the first being his academic career.

Dr Shepherd was formerly a senior lecturer in biochemistry and then was appointed Foundation Professor in experimental oral biology at the University of Otago.

He has published more than 100 articles in international journals and contributed to numerous books and reviews.

Dr Shepherd said when he joined the biochemistry department in 1969, biology was going through a revolution.

“That was a really rewarding time, we had amazing graduates students from all over the world coming to Otago.

“I was successful in picking up the inaugural chair of experimental oral biology at the dental school, which was studying the organism that causes thrush, and set up a really good team which has continued to this day doing internationally renowned work.”

Dr Shepherd said when he was giving lectures around the world and attending conferences he visited a lot of pharmaceutical companies who were conducting pioneering work on biotechnology.

“I came back and thought we can do something along those lines here.”

From the mid-1990s Dr Shepherd was instrumental in the practical application and commercial funding of science through the establishment of start-up enterprises focused on the commercialisation of scientific research, such as Zentech, PharmaZen, a2 Milk, Biocell Corporation and Blis Technologies.

His commercialisation model is now widely adopted by start-ups in the industry.

Dr Shepherd met his wife, Laraine, at high school in Greymouth, and they have been married for 57 years. He said she has been incredibly supportive and encouraging in every one of his ventures.

“The most difficult one was leaving the university and going into industry,” he said.

His greatest mentor was the former head of the microbiology department at Oxford University, Professor Joel Mandelstam FRS, who he met while on a Nuffield New Zealand Scholarship.

“Professor Mandelstam was supportive of me for the rest of my career. It is really important to have people like that in your life.”

Dr Shepherd (78) moved to Wanaka permanently in 2005 and has been working remotely and commuting to Auckland and Christchurch ever since.

“We have teams working up there on sterile vaccination production and fermentation. It is an exciting time,” Dr Shepherd said.