MRFF backs new national venture to strengthen homegrown medicine outcomes

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

MedChem Australia will be headquartered at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) and will bring together three leading medical chemistry groups in Australia from MIPS, WEHI and the University of Sydney. The trio, in collaboration with Therapeutic Innovation Australia (TIA), will guide early-stage projects through the process of identifying drug candidates with potential commercial value. In addition to the government’s generous investment, the four partners will together contribute more than $5 million toward the establishment of MedChem Australia, bringing the project’s total seed funding to around $15 million over five years.

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

Professor Paul Stupple, Director of the Australian Translational Medicinal Chemistry Facility (ATMCF) which sits within MIPS, 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.

Clockwise from top left: Professor Paul Stupple (MIPS), Professor Sue Charman (MIPS), Professor Guillaume Lessene (WEHI), Dr Stuart Newman (TIA), Professor Michael Kassiou (USyd) and Dr Jeff Mitchell (WEHI).

“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,” said Professor Stupple.

“Alongside our collaborative partners, MedChem Australia will deliver preclinical candidates, increasing opportunities for new biomed spin-outs, and engage actively with industry to drive investment and generate new jobs.”

Theme Leader of New Medicines and Advanced Technologies at WEHI, Professor Guillaume Lessene, will lead the WEHI node of MedChem Australia.

“This initiative will accelerate our collaborative efforts to turn the latest scientific discoveries into new treatments and therapies,” Professor Lessene said.

“While the National Drug Discovery Centre, 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.”

Professor Michael Kassiou, the academic director of the Drug Discovery Initiative at the University of Sydney, will lead the Sydney node of MedChem Australia.

“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. Our team 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,” said Professor Kassiou.

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 to better understand the pharmaceutical properties (such as absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion) of drug candidates to improve compound design, selection and progression​.

“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,” said Professor Charman.

TIA is part of the Australian Government’s NCRIS (National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy) network that provides access to translational research infrastructure. Both CDCO and ATMCF are current members of TIA’s national consortium.

MedChem Australia will comprise similar scale nodes of activity at MIPS, WEHI and the University of Sydney. Each will maintain state-of-the-art facilities for drug design and synthesis and MedChem Australia will fund skilled medicinal chemists and project consumables for teams to progress projects that are selected on a competitive basis.

Monash has received more than $18m through the National Critical Research Infrastructure initiative as part of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for four research projects.

The National Critical Research Infrastructure program provides funding to establish and extend infrastructure of critical importance, and to conduct world-class health and medical research in areas of unmet medical need.