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Newly approved anti-cancer drug highlights NZ researsh

Newly approved anti-cancer drug highlights New Zealand research excellence

The recent approval in Japan of an anti-cancer drug discovered in Wellington has put the global spotlight on New Zealand research and our scientists’ ability to innovate and develop new drugs.

The recent approval in Japan of an anti-cancer drug discovered in Wellington has put the global spotlight on New Zealand research and our scientists’ ability to innovate and develop new drugs.

The newly approved drug, called Mundesine®, treats patients with peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL) — a group of aggressive cancers that account for 10 to 15 percent of all cases of non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

The active ingredient in Mundesine®, forodesine hydrochloride, was first synthesised by Professors Peter Tyler and Richard Furneaux at Victoria University’s Ferrier Research Institute, in collaboration with Professor Vern Schramm from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Professors Tyler and Furneaux are both Associate Investigators of the Maurice Wilkins Centre.

Mundesine® is the second New Zealand-developed drug to be authorised for use in patients. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare authorised its use after reviewing the results from 19 clinical trials of the drug. It's now likely that other countries will also approve use of the drug in these diseases in future.

Given the enormous amount of time and resources typically required to take a drug from its discovery to market, this second drug approval should be viewed as a significant achievement for a small country such as New Zealand.

“I’m very proud,” says Professor Tyler. “We’ve been working on this science for 20 years, and used a rational approach to design this drug. We resolved some complex chemistry and it’s great that, following this approval, the drug is now being made available.

“In some cancers, like lymphoma, T-cells, a type of white blood cell, replicate uncontrollably. This drug inhibits the enzyme PNP (purine nucleoside phosphorylase), causing a metabolic imbalance in the T-cells that triggers cell death. The approval of Mundesine® provides further treatment options for patients with PTCL.”

Mundesine® was originally licensed by Viclink, Victoria University’s commercialisation office, and their research partners the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to the US company BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. BioCryst subsequently sub-licensed the drug to Mundipharma to develop and commercialise it as a cancer medicine.

The drug has been specifically approved for patients whose PTCL has relapsed (recurred) or is refractory (resistant to treatment). Few effective treatments have been available for these conditions. Those PTCL patients who relapse following chemotherapy currently live an average of only six more months.

Professors Tyler and Furneaux continue to be actively involved in cancer research at the Ferrier Research Institute, and continue to collaborate with other MWC researchers. One of these collaborations is a five-year MBIE-funded research programme led by Professor Gavin Painter developing non-toxic vaccines for use in the immune therapy of cancer.


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