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Chief Executive Peter Lennox: a year in review

07 December 2022

Peter Lennox Chief Executive
Peter Lennox Chief Executive

If the emergence of COVID-19 and its variants represented a profound disruption to every aspect of our lives, then 2022 has demonstrated the remarkable progress that can be achieved by pushing the boundaries of science. The dedication and innovation of our people in genomics, wastewater and data science has allowed New Zealand to implement effective responses to COVID-19. This has kept communities safe, enabled positive economic performance and ensured our health system managed under increased pressure. 

ESR was the first organisation in New Zealand to sequence SARS-CoV-2 and was soon delivering some of the fastest turn-around times in the world – this genomics-led information played a pivotal role in our response to COVID-19, enabling us to connect and track cases, detect new variants, and understand which variants are more likely to be associated with severe disease. This year, to make this information even more accessible, ESR developed public-facing COVID-19 genomics insights reports and a dashboard.

Alongside our genomics work, ESR’s wastewater testing programme has become a pillar of the country’s COVID-19 response.  In July we launched an interactive map and dashboard of COVID-19 wastewater samples, enabling New Zealanders to see the level of SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater in their local area, in order to make decisions to manage their health.

Beyond our COVID-19 activities, the ESR-led WellKiwis infant study marked an important milestone as it reached its target of recruiting over 500 Wellington babies, who are set to play a key role in helping ESR experts better understand immunity and how more effective vaccines could be developed for influenza and other viruses. Earlier this year, we were proud to see a cornerstone report about infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance published by the Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, with input from ESR Senior Scientist Dr Kristin Dyet.

On the forensic front, throughout the year we have continued to champion science-led approaches to reduce drug harm. With the nationwide rollout of Lumi™ Drug Scan, co-developed by ESR and New Zealand Police, we have seen the implementation of a world-class service that combines the power of a portable handheld device, the Lumi™ Mobile App, and a secure cloud platform delivering real-time analysis of drug samples. Lumi™ allows frontline police officers to rapidly detect illicit drugs using their mobile phones.

Our water scientists engaged in important awareness raising about the need to protect groundwater as a taonga. This was complemented by a review and public health recommendations on how to address lead exposure from drinking water due to corrosion of lead plumbing fixtures. The biowaste team also published research demonstrating native plants are just as happy being irrigated with wastewater, alongside sobering but critical research from our microplastics scientists on the discovery of microplastic ‘nurdles’ floating around even our most isolated coastlines. This work is a timely wake-up call to heed science and make changes to drive environmental sustainability, to protect both natural ecosystems and human health.

You can discover these and other important achievements in Te Pūrongo Ā-Tau 2022: Impact Report. This online report provides a snapshot of ESR’s science that has made a difference for Aotearoa this year. View Te Pūrongo Ā-Tau 2022: Highlights and Impact Report.

Our achievements this year have only been made possible through the work of our incredible colleagues and partners. I am so proud of the dedication, spirit and professionalism of all our people to deliver outstanding contributions to the health and wellbeing of communities in a challenging year. The ESR team looks forward to our continued collaborations throughout 2023.