ACRF Chemical Biology

ACRF Chemical Biology

Protein structure formed in the process of apoptosis
The ACRF Chemical Biology division investigates key biological processes and pathways critical in disease development to discover potential drug targets important for human disease.
Our researchers use chemical, biochemical, structural and biological approaches to establish how dysregulation of critical cell signalling pathways contributes to disease, and use this to guide novel therapeutic development.

Discovering new drugs for inflammatory diseases

Catalyst Therapeutics – a joint venture between the institute and SYN|thesis Med Chem – is funding a program to discover drugs that will treat immune disorders.

The research program aims to develop lead compounds against the protein MLKL in order to treat inflammatory conditions.

MLKL is a key protein in necroptosis, a process that orders the cell to self-destruct while sending signals to the immune system to mount a response to potential invaders. Drugs that target MLKL could help patients who have inflammatory immune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

Developing novel cancer drugs

Medicinal chemist Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene is working to identify and develop drug-like molecules targeting cancer cells.

Associate Professor Lessene was jointly awarded the institute’s 2013 Burnet Prize, awarded annually to early-career scientists, with Dr Peter Czabotar from the Structural Biology division. Associate Professor Lessene played a key role in developing a tailor-made chemical compound,

WEHI-539, which blocks a protein linked to poor responses to treatment in cancer patients. The compound is an important step towards the design of a potential new anti-cancer agent.

Searching for new cancer and infection treatments

Dr Ethan Goddard-Borger joined the institute with a $150,000 veski fellowship to discover potential medicines for cancers, genetic disorders and fungal infections.

Dr Goddard-Borger is developing new ways to block production of glycosphingolipids. Changes in glycosphingolipid production can contribute to cancer, cryptococcosis (a form of meningitis) and fatal genetic conditions known as lysosomal storage disorders. He is working to discovery new agents that block glycosphingolipid function to treat these diseases.

He is also the recipient of a Ramaciotti Establishment grant from the Ramaciotti Foundations, managed by Perpetual.

Health impact

Cancers: blood cancers, breast cancers, myeloproliferative disorders, stomach cancers

Immune disorders: Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, rheumatic fever and heart disease

Infectious disease: HIV, malaria, toxoplasmosis

Other areas: heart disease and stroke, neurodegenerative disease

Lab heads

Professor Benjamin Kile, Joint Division Head

Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene, Joint Division Head

Associate Professor Chris Burns

Professor Keith Watson, honorary

Dr Ethan Goddard-Borger

Dr Isabelle Lucet

Division coordinator

Dr Michelle Lam