Drug discovery gets $9.75m boost for MedChem Australia 

Map of Australia

The Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has invested $9.75 million into establishing MedChem Australia, a new national medicinal chemistry initiative.  

MedChem Australia will bring together three medical chemistry groups in Australia from the University of Sydney, Monash University and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI). It will be headquartered at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS). 

Together, the three institutions, in collaboration with Therapeutic Innovation Australia (TIA), will guide early-stage projects through the process of identifying drug candidates with potential commercial value. 

Professor Michael Kassiou, Academic Director of the Drug Discovery Initiative in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, will lead the Sydney node of MedChem Australia. He said: “Creating molecules for medicines from promising research ‘hits’ is a huge challenge and remains a major gap in Australian drug discovery efforts. MedChem Australia will fill this gap. The Drug Discovery Initiative at the University of Sydney is thrilled to collaborate with the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and WEHI to create this much needed national framework. This will increase our ability to translate critical discoveries and fuel the biotech ecosystem in Australia.” 

In addition to the government’s investment via the MRFF’s National Critical Research Infrastructure Grant, the four partners will together contribute more than $5 million toward the establishment of MedChem Australia, bringing the project’s total seed funding to about $15 million over five years.  

The capacity gap

MedChem Australia will help to fill a significant capacity gap in the drug discovery pipeline. This gap exists between fundamental drug discovery biology programmes and the generation of defined and optimised candidate drug molecules that have the potential to attract the commercial partnerships required to support formal clinical development programmes. 

Professor Paul Stupple, Director of the Australian Translational Medicinal Chemistry Facility (ATMCF) which sits within MIPS at Monash, and co-lead of MedChem Australia, said that although Australia has an enviable reputation in fundamental biology, the nation’s record in translating discoveries into commercially attractive drug candidates needs to improve. He said: “Ultimately, the primary goal of MedChem Australia is to fill a critical capability gap to put Australia at the forefront of drug candidate translation and strengthen sovereign outcomes when it comes to the development of home-grown, high-quality medicines. Alongside our collaborative partners, MedChem Australia will deliver preclinical candidates, increasing opportunities for new biomed spinouts, and engage actively with industry to drive investment and generate new jobs.” 

Also co-leading the project from MIPS is Professor Susan Charman, Director of the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation (CDCO), a collaborative research centre that provides expertise and infrastructure to multidisciplinary drug discovery teams. She said: “MedChem Australia will address gaps within Australia’s current drug discovery environment by integrating the expertise of three of the country’s leading medicinal chemistry groups with our expertise in biopharmaceutical properties and pharmacokinetic characterisation to deliver high-quality preclinical drug candidates. With this significant investment from the MRFF, combined with the backing of TIA, this national consortium will transform drug discovery in Australia.” 

New treatments and therapies

Theme Leader of New Medicines and Advanced Technologies at WEHI, Professor Guillaume Lessene, will lead the WEHI node of MedChem Australia. He said: “This initiative will accelerate our collaborative efforts to turn the latest scientific discoveries into new treatments and therapies. While the National Drug Discovery Centre (NDDC), headquartered at WEHI, addresses the early challenges in drug discovery, we have been missing the next crucial steps. Together, MedChem Australia and the NDDC are establishing the foundation of a powerful pipeline of translation from discovery to new medicines.”  

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