Discovering new drugs in New Zealand

Discovering new drugs in New Zealand

With the time and money involved, can we discover new drugs to cure diseases here in Aotearoa? A Victoria University professor with no fewer than 32 patents says we can.

It’s one of the hardest things humans can do: discovering new drugs that can cure us of the things that harm us. The obstacles are formidable: the time involved, the difficulty of the science, and of course the gargantuan amounts of money required. That means such research is all but impossible in a place like little old Aotearoa, right?

Wrong – and that’s coming from an expert who knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about.

Victoria University professor Dr Peter Tyler, from Victoria’s Ferrier Research Institute, has had a career in chemistry that spans 35 years—and 32 patents for potential drug candidates. So when he says discovering new drugs right here in Aotearoa is something that can be done, he has a bit of authority. “Drug discovery is absolutely feasible in New Zealand, and we are doing world class research,” he says. “I really relish working on something that I know will ultimately be useful, and provide much needed treatments.”

Dr Peter Tyler.

Tyler will speak on Tuesday, 4 October about how when chemistry is partnered with biology, real progress can be made. “I’ve worked on a number of research projects that have resulted in promising drug candidates,” he explains. “This includes Forodesine, which has been through several clinical trials for T-cell cancers, and Ulodesine, which has successfully completed a phase two clinical trial for gout. One of our compounds has also been shown to have efficacy against malaria. Others have demonstrated activity against the disease visceral leishmaniasis—which is a particular problem in Brazil. Another compound is in preclinical development against solid tumours, and has also shown broad activity against several types of cancer.”

And that’s not all, he says. “We are looking to develop new compounds that target trypanosome parasites—parasites which are the cause of Chagas disease in central and South America, and African sleeping sickness.”

Dr Ralf Schwӧrer, left,  Dr Peter Tyler and Dr Olga Zubkova.

A Victoria graduate for his bachelor’s degree and PhD, Tyler joined the University in 2014 when the Ferrier Research Institute was formed. Prior to that, he worked as a scientist at Callaghan Innovation, and the former Industrial Research Limited and Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. At the lecture, Tyler will also talk about his research into a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s, which recently received more than $850,000 in funding for its development. The chemistry created during this research is now being extended into a three-year research study targeting cellular communications, supported by the Marsden Fund. “Our drug candidates for Alzheimer’s disease are significantly different from others—no one else in the world is using this approach,” Tyler says.

In other words, developing new drugs is absolutely possible in New Zealand – and anywhere where there’s a will to do so, and the necessary supports in place to enable such research.

Tyler will speak at 6pm on Tuesday, 4 October in Lecture Theatre KKLT301, Level 3, Kirk Building at Victoria’s Kelburn Campus. Attendees are asked to RSV before Friday, 30 September by emailing rsvp@vuw.ac.nz with ‘Tyler’ in the subject line or by calling 04-463 7458.