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National centre to transform home-grown medicine capabilities launched in Melbourne

08 November 2023
A group of smiling people are photographed applauding

MedChem Australia will accelerate promising early-stage drug discovery projects towards clinical trials and, ultimately, create new medicines for a broad range of diseases.

The first-of-its-kind national initiative connecting three of Australia’s top medicinal chemistry groups from WEHI, Monash University and the University of Sydney has been launched in Melbourne.

At a glance
MedChem Australia, a collaborative initiative from WEHI, Monash University and the University of Sydney, officially launches in Melbourne.
The initiative has been established with $15 million in total seed funding from the Medical Research Future Fund, Therapeutic Innovation Australia and the three partners.
Expert medicinal chemistry capability and mentorship will enhance, accelerate and enable the development of homegrown, high-quality medicines.

Accelerating drug discovery and development

The initiative was established with $9.75 million in funding from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, along with more than $5 million from Therapeutic Innovation Australia and the three partners, bringing the project’s total seed funding to around $15 million over five years.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney visited Monash’s Parkville campus to meet with the scientists behind MedChem Australia and mark the official launch of MedChem Australia.

Globally, Australia has an enviable reputation in biomedical research, but a poor record in translating these discoveries into new homegrown medicines for patients who need them.

MedChem Australia will tap into medicinal chemistry expertise across the three partners to guide projects through the critical early stages of the drug discovery pipeline to translate ‘hits’ into drug candidates with enhanced commercial value.

Director of MedChem Australia Professor Brendon Monahan said the drug candidates are significantly more attractive to industry, and will catalyse investment to develop home grown, high value medicines, jobs and exports.

“Through a collaboration model, MedChem Australia will provide expert medicinal chemistry capability and mentorship to enhance, accelerate, and enable the development of home grown, high quality medicines. We are excited to launch this initiative and make the first call for project applications from across Australia,” said Professor Monahan.

MedChem Australia Chief Investigator and WEHI Professor Guillaume Lessene said MedChem Australia would accelerate drug discovery and development in Australia.

“Drug discovery is a long and challenging process, which usually happens over many years,” said Professor Lessene, Leader of the New Medicines and Advanced Technologies theme at WEHI.

“It requires enormous investments from the biopharma sector, and is usually out of reach from academic research laboratories. It involves the incredible dedication of large teams of researchers to progress a program through the various stages of drug discovery to eventually deliver a drug that can be used by patients.

“This initiative will expedite drug discovery from compound to medicine significantly here in Australia, allowing researchers to take their ideas from the lab to the clinic quicker than ever before.

“MedChem Australia will help advance the research discoveries made by our nation’s talented scientists and will create a highly skilled workforce locally, allowing us to attract and retain the best talent.”

MedChem Australia Chief Investigator and WEHI Professor Guillaume Lessene.

Plugging critical gap

MedChem Australia, which is headquartered at Monash, will plug a critical gap in Australia’s drug discovery pipeline by ensuring promising projects addressing unmet medical needs are supported with additional resources and expertise to aid progression and enhance value.

“Australia has innovative projects and world-class scientists working to develop new medicines to treat human disease,” said Professor Monahan.

“However, at the moment a large proportion of these projects don’t progress beyond the early stages because of resources or funding constraints. MedChem Australia offers a new path forward and, by building relationships and providing actual capability and expertise, will help drive projects to success.

“MedChem Australia will provide promising Australian drug discovery projects with medicinal chemistry expertise and capability, at subsidised cost, to accelerate progression, enhance success, and maximise value and impact.”

Professor Michael Kassiou is the Head of the MedChem Australia University of Sydney node.

“Medicinal chemistry is a domain that produces novel translational research, and MedChem Australia will provide a strategic vehicle for capitalising on Australia’s biomedical research excellence,” he said.

“The University of Sydney is delighted to be part of this national framework which will improve our ability to advance homegrown medicines and fuel Australia’s biotech ecosystem.”

The Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney is photographed in a lab meeting scientists, all are wearing lab coats
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney meets scientists involved in the pioneering medicinal chemistry initiative.

Converting discoveries to drug candidates

Associate Professor Amee George, who heads up the Australian National University (ANU) Centre for Therapeutic Discovery (ACTD) at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, both leads and supports drug discovery projects with the potential to benefit from MedChem Australia’s services. 

“Much of the work that the ACTD supports is around the identification of novel therapeutics for the treatment of many different disorders, including cancer, immunological and infectious diseases,” said Associate Professor George.  

“We’re really excited to see the establishment of MedChem Australia, which will help to support our clients to convert their initial discoveries into drug candidates ready for clinical trials and, eventually, commercialisation.”  

With the National Drug Discovery Centre, headquartered at WEHI, addressing the early challenges in drug discovery, MedChem Australia provides the next crucial steps to establish the foundation of a powerful pipeline of translation from discovery to new medicines. 

Dr Jeff Mitchell, Head of the NDDC and a scientific node lead on the new project, will bring his experience of successfully establishing a landmark national centre to MedChem Australia. 

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. 

MedChem Australia is making its first call for project applications in early December. 

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