New drug discovery centre to fast-track medicines

11 March 2020
A state-of-the-art facility to fast-track new medicines for Australian patients has been opened by Australian Minister for Health the Hon. Greg Hunt MP and Victorian Minister for Health the Hon. Jenny Mikakos MP at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

The new centre is the first of its kind in Australia, and will offer researchers access to the latest in advanced robotic high-throughput screening to ensure patients will benefit from new medicines sooner.

At a glance

Researcher in the NDDC
The National Drug Discovery Centre will offer researchers
access to the latest in advanced robotic high-throughput
  • Australian Minister for Health the Hon. Greg Hunt MP and Victorian Minister for Health the Hon. Jenny Mikakos MP opened the new National Drug Discovery Centre.

  • The first two recipients of federal government-subsidised screens will be projects to find new medicines for cancer immunotherapy and type 2 diabetes.

  • The centre is a state-of-the-art facility using the latest advanced robotic, high-throughput screening technologies to fast-track medicines to Australian patients.

Centre an ‘Australian first’

The $75 million-dollar centre will advance Australia’s drug discovery capabilities and reduce the time it takes to bring new medicines to market. The NDDC was generously supported by $25 million from the Australian government and $18 million from the Victorian Government, with a $32 million investment from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, which includes income from the sale of venetoclax royalties and philanthropic gifts.

The launch included announcement of the first two successful recipients of a federal government subsidy to support drug discovery for cancer immunotherapy and type 2 diabetes. The subsidy will cover 90 per cent of the cost of using the NDDC, reducing the cost of a traditional screening campaign – normally upwards of $300,000 – to around $30,000-$45,000.

Commonwealth and state backing

Minister Hunt said the Australian and Victorian governments had worked together to establish the centre, the first of its kind in Australia.

“This centre will allow medical researchers to fast-track the development of new drugs to treat common and rare diseases, improving the quality of life for many Australians,” Mr Hunt said.

Minister Mikakos said the centre would combine specialist expertise with cutting-edge technology. “This will be a game changer for Victoria’s world-class researchers who now have the equipment they need to turn their biomedical discoveries into new medicines – bringing life-saving treatments to patients, sooner,” Ms Mikakos said. 

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton thanked the Australian and Victorian governments, and philanthropic donors, for their investment, and for recognising the importance of the NDDC to the Australian medical research sector.

“For many years the translation of world-class Australian research into new medicines has been hampered by a lack of capacity for drug development. This meant many promising research discoveries were either never pursued, or researchers were forced overseas to develop their research into new therapies,” Professor Hilton said.

“The Institute is proud to have led the establishment of a centre that will fill a vital gap in Australia’s drug discovery pipeline. The centre will enable our colleagues from Australian research institutes, universities and small-to-medium enterprises to advance their research beyond the bench and provide them with world-class facilities and staff as they fast-track their drug discovery journeys.”

New therapies for cancer and diabetes

The first two recipients of Australian Government-subsidised screens will be projects to find new medicines for type 2 diabetes and cancer immunotherapy.

Associate Professor Anthony Don, from the University of Sydney and Centenary Institute, will lead a project to develop new drugs that reverse systemic insulin resistance that causes type 2 diabetes, without the side effect of additional weight gain associated with most existing drugs.

Professor Matthias Ernst from La Trobe University and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute will receive a subsidy to identify new immunotherapy cancer treatments, uncovering ways of making cancer more visible to the immune system and enhancing the effect of anti-tumour immune therapies. The findings could lead to new anti-cancer drugs that could treat breast, bowel, pancreatic and other solid tumours.

Round two applications for subsidised access to the NDDC close on 23 March with successful recipients chosen by an independent panel. There will be two funding rounds per year with increasing capacity until 2022. 

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