Video transcripts for research areas at Monash

Research: Drug Discovery Biology at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Prof Patrick Sexton: The MIPS architecture, we’re sort of unique in Australia in that we can do research at a biological interface and a medicinal chemistry interface and we also can look at how drugs are delivered, taken up, distributed. So these are all the key critical paths in order to do discovery and development of drugs. DDB, it stands for Drug Discovery Biology, it’s the biology stream of the institute and we have a lot of work around target identification, validation, a lot of mechanistic understanding of how proteins work, how they can interact with drugs and how this can enable better therapeutics. Collaboration is a key element of what we do here and a institution wide level and also very much within the theme itself. It’s very important that it bring in a different expertise, different views, and to put those together to be able to do things in a bigger, more empowered way.

Dr Michelle Halls: This is a really exciting place to be doing research, particularly because we have access to a wide range of expertise through collaborations in DDB and MIPS and also overseas.

Elizabeth McBrearty: In terms of the DDB lab I’d rate this second to none. Like I think we’ve said, we’ve got such an incredibly nurturing and supportive environment. So we’ve got a really good cohort of students that we are all very encouraging and supportive of one another.

Prof Patrick Sexton: We’re a centre of excellence because of the quality of people we have here. I think that’s critical to success - the right people in the right environment, who can then, with the right attitude, work together to do high-end science. We have a lot of world-class basic science expertise here, we have, you know, from professorial level people, some very high quality early career researchers. I mean, the key is, they’re all very bright people, they’re all people who want to make impactful discoveries and they want to work together. 

Dr Michelle Halls: I’d also like to continue to develop my independent line of research here in DDB and grow the research group that I’m currently leading at the moment.

Elizabeth McBrearty: It really encourage it’s students to publish, which, in the field of research that’s very important in terms of getting your knowledge out there, and for future job prospects as well.

Prof Patrick Sexton: So we are world-class scientists, particularly in the area of g protein-coupled receptor biology. We’re making fundamental advances in terms of understandings some novel phenomenon in terms of how these receptors work and the type of ligands they can interact with. And we think that some of these discoveries underlie some of the reasons why you have clinical failure of drugs, and so we expect to make impact in that area as we go forward.


Research: The Monash - Servier Partnership in Drug Discovery.

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Prof Arthur Christopoulos: In terms of g protein-coupled receptors, Monash is one of the world leaders and definitely the leaders in Australia. We have a critical mass of scientists here that have really put in a lot of time, effort and published some very impactful studies on ways in which we can target GPCRs. And we’re internationally acknowledged as such.

Dr Chris Langmead: Servier actually funds up to 15 people to work at the labs here at MIPS, focused on three different projects targeting g protein-coupled receptors in disease areas as diverse as schizophrenia and obesity induced diabetes. They see in us the ability to prosecute world class GPCR biology and chemistry, and indeed by working with them we’re able to access their technologies and platforms that together enable us to do smarter, faster and more innovative drug discovery.

Prof Arthur Christopoulos: Well, we’re focusing on a couple of very hot areas of therapeutic need -  neuro-psychiatric disorders, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease – these are major, major health burdens that are sub-optimally treated at the moment and our goal is actually be these novel approaches we have towards targeting GPCRs and working with someone like Servier we’ll actually be able to make some fundamental breakthroughs which are an essentially unmet medical need.

Dr Chris Langmead: So by virtue of these industry partnerships we create an environment for HDR students within MIPS that will give them a terrific grounding in drug discovery research and enable their careers in biomedical research in the future.

Prof Arthur Christopoulos: One of the things we’re particularly proud of is that this collaboration with Servier is one of the largest drug discovery deals ever made with a single laboratory in Australia. And that’s actually brought a number of jobs into Victoria, into our institute, and these are highly skilled positions, they’re going to be highly trained people and the idea is that we can go forward and use those skills on the wider world stage.  


Research: The Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Prof Susan Charman: The CDCO was established ten years ago to fill a crucial gap in drug discovery. Australia has a lot of excellent medicinal chemists and biologists, but there’re relatively few groups that really focus on identifying pharmaceutical properties that might limit drug development. We study the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion properties of new drug candidates. This information ultimately dictates the concentration profile of drug in the body. It’s really important because a drug has to be formulated, it has to be delivered, it has to reach the site of action, it has to stay there for long enough if it’s going to deliver the desired effect.

Dr Andrew Powell: We engage with the project team to identify what data is needed and then use a range of computational, in vitro and in vivo techniques to meet the needs of the project.

Prof Susan Charman: Local biotech companies and startup companies that are engaged in drug discovery can meet with us face to face, so we ca have a discussion, identify what specific areas they need help with, what the particular issues are with drug candidates so we can design the studies to answer the right questions.

Dr Andrew Powell: There could be a range of things, could be permeability, metabolism, solubility. All common issues with potential drugs.

Prof Susan Charman: Our ongoing mission is really to provide critical data and insight to help translate chemical and biological discoveries into viable drug candidates that have the most chance, the best chance, of chemical success.

Dr Andrew Powell: The idea of potentially having a drug on the market from the work we’ve done, makes it all worthwhile.

Prof Susan Charman: These drugs really do have the potential to improve the quality of life of individual all around the world and to treat serious deadly diseases.


Research: Fighting Superbugs.

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Prof Jian Li: We have a team of 22 researchers in our programs are founded by the US and Australian governments. 

Prof Roger Nation: We have extensive international collaborators, so both clinical and pre-clinical scientists, and also lots of them are locally here in Australia and within Monash. These days polymyxins are quite often the only antibiotics that are active against bacterial superbugs. By understanding the mechanisms by which polymyxins kill bacteria and also the way in which they interact with kidney cells, we’re discovering the safest and best ways in which to use these drugs in patients, including those who are critically ill. 

Prof Jian Li: In a parallel research program we are discovering novel polymyxins that are safer and more active than the current polymyxins. From this drug discovery program, we are aiming to identify two candidate novel polymyxins that can progress to pre-clinical and clinical evaluations. 

Prof Roger Nation: Using cutting edge techniques, we’ve generated most of the modern pharmacological knowledge on the polymyxins. Investment in the program is incredibly important; obviously Monash has been very supportive. We’ve also had programs that have been well supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia, and also the National Institutes of Health in the US.   

Prof Jian Li: We have great research programs for PhD students and honour students and for post-docs to be part of this exciting program. Hopefully in ten years we will discover new antibiotics which can be used to treat life threatening infections caused by gram negative superbugs, which don’t have any therapeutic options at the moment.


Research: Monash’s Centre for Medicine Use and Safety.

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Prof Carl Kirkpatrick: The CMUS was established in 2009 as a university centre. It was all about developing a research centre which could look at patent care and patient factors as they transited through the health system, and where pharmacy can be involved in making impactful contributions in improving patient outcomes. CMUS is based in two parts, predominately in Parkville, here at Monash, but also has a node based at the Alfred Hospital, and at the Alfred hospital that’s where a large amount of the pharmaco therapy research is undertaken in clinical trials and optimizing patient care in the hospital setting.

Dr Edwin Tan: I think at the moment pharmacists tend to exist on the periphery of the primary health care team. They’re quite isolated and there’s often not a lot of communication going on between pharmacists and GPs and nursing staff and allied health. So by having them physically present in the clinic and part of the team, I believe that allows for inter-professional communication and collaboration, and this can translate to better delivery of health to patients.

Dr Angelina Lim: I’m always up for better patient care, new developments are also interesting and I think obviously as a pharmacist I’m always looking into more and more safety data for medication usage.

Prof Carl Kirkpatrick: The impact of Centre for Medicine Use and Safety has been fantastic. We have world leading research programs in pharmacometrics, in pharmacoepidemiology, in pharmacotherapy and a very, very strong group leading health services, mostly in Australia, but with a little bit outside Australia.    

Dr Edwin Tan: I believe Monash is leading the way in which pharmacists and GPs collaborate.

Dr Angelina Lim: Our biggest goal is to improve patient care and obviously to definitely minimize adverse outcomes that can happen in pregnancy and complications.    

Prof Carl Kirkpatrick: We’ve become a national leader in multidiscipline research in the area of pharmacy practice, and we welcome all collaborators and PhD students to come and join us and be a part of an active Centre for Medicine Use and Safety group.


Research: Pharmacoepidemiology at Monash.

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Associate Prof Simon Bell: Pharmacoepidemiology will become increasingly important as the Australian population ages, so we’re using more medicines, there’s also multiple medicines used, so it will be very important to have high quality evidence on which to base our clinical and health policy decisions. We have a new collaboration with the Department of Epidemiology in Preventative Medicines at the Alfred Centre and we have a number of new projects in this area looking at the way medicines are used at the societal level. We also have research strength in relation to aging and we’re collaborating with old age psychiatry at Monash University to do research projects looking at the way that psychotropic medicines are used in aged care facilities.     

Natali Jokanovic: I guess with pharmacy I’ve just always wanted that patient contact, I’ve wanted to be on the front line and actually make a difference so this is why I’ve always been drawn to pharmacy in particular, but then also being able to do research as well – so to make an impact.

Dr Jenni Ilomaki: It’s really important to look at medicine use in the real life population when medicines are marketed. Clinical trials that are done before the marketing are often limited to adult populations and people with usually not that many other comorbidities or other medicines.

Associate Prof Simon Bell: Collaboration is really the foundation of what we do and we would welcome applications from potential PhD students or postdoctoral fellows, or even staff who wish to do a research exchange with us here at Monash University.   

Natali Jokanovic: Definitely here at Monash, it is one of the leading faculties in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences, so the researchers here are world class and they have a lot of talent, so I do feel like I am getting quite a lot of exposure to that. \

Dr Jenni Ilomaki: I go to conferences annually that focus on methodology and there is always something new that I learn, so I think it’s interesting to then come back to your office and then think about the methods and apply in my own research.     

Associate Prof Simon Bell: The future’s certainly really bright, the research group is growing here quite quickly in the University and so it’s certainly exciting to be a part of that development and leading that development in collaboration with our national and international partners.


Research: Australian Translational Medicinal Chemistry Facility.

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Prof Jonathan Bell: We specialise in medicinal chemistry and what our brief is, if you like, here at these labs specifically is to take fundamental biological research, medical biology research, take the fantastic outcomes or discoveries that Australia can generate, and actually turn them into small molecule, value added therapeutics.

Associate Prof Bernard Flynn: One of our most important attributes that sets us apart from other facilities is our industry experience. We recognise that industry partners that are going to partner with us in the future have very special and specific requirements for where they want a drug candidate to be positioned in terms of both its efficacy and its safety profiles and its suitability for clinical development – but also a whole range of other commercial considerations in terms of patent protection and patent life.

Prof Jonathan Bell: At the moment there’s a worldwide trend for pharma to actually open the doors and try and engage with academic research institutes to do the high risk stuff, the exciting high risk, but leverage the research in that manner. And so, we believe we’ve got great opportunities with what we’ve got going here to actually engage the Pfizers of the world, the GSKs, and so the Servier is just one of many examples going into the future which we’ll have. We’ve got quite a layered group, so from honour students, PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, and we quite often work in sub-teams and to some extent share different projects to do whatever it takes to, I guess, progress the most efficiently.

Associate Prof Bernard Flynn: Our hopes and aspirations for the ATMCF is that this becomes a central point at which they can convert their science into clinical agents of the highest caliber.

Prof Jonathan Bell: Ultimately for us, it’s about saving lives. So, we’ve got projects in cancer, but we’ve got also projects in neglected diseases to try and help people in impoverished countries who, there’s no real market, so the big pharma don’t go near there. But we’re at an institute where we’re ideally placed to work with charities to actually end up with treatments for those diseases, those third world diseases.


Research: Medicinal Chemistry at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Peter Scammells: Monash is very highly regarded for pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy. I think it’s one of the top ranked institutions in the world. Many of our projects are done in collaboration with industry, so students get to work with industry researchers and we tackle real life problems.

Prof Ray Norton: One of the reasons I moved, and in particular to MIPS and to medicinal chemistry is that for a lot of the projects we absolutely have to have top class medicinal chemistry, and that’s allowing me to progress some of these drug candidates to the point that they might actually be clinical candidates sometime in the future. But without medicinal chemistry that’s just not possible.   

Peter Scammells: We have a lot of enthusiasm and original ideas which have proven really useful in advancing projects, so we’ve got quite a lot of success on working with industry along those lines. I think it’s sort of the best of both worlds. If you can work with them, you have all the advantages of working with a fine academic institution, but then collaborating on these sort of real world problems with industry.    

Prof Ray Norton: I think we’re capable of doing, of matching, anything that the rest of the world can do. But we do need good people. You know, it’s always the people – you can buy the best equipment in the world, if you don’t have the good people to actually drive it and come up with the good ideas then it won’t be a good investment.

Peter Scammells: We’ve recruited a lot of bright young scientists who are really starting to get their projects up and going, and they’re getting interesting results. So, I think the future will be very bright for us.


Research: Drug Delivery, Disposition and Dynamics at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Prof Colin Pouton: Drug Delivery, Disposition and Dynamics - so what that describes is the process of a drug getting from its side of administration to its side of action. What happens to it along the way, how does it interact with proteins, enzymes, transporters along the way, how do we target it to a particular cell, maybe even an intracellular location, and then how long does it spend in that location, how long does it take to be excreted, metabolized and what are the kinetics of that process. There are certain areas of drug delivery which we are really well known for, and we’re particularly strong in oral delivery, but we’re also very strong in the emerging area of nano-medicine, where nano-technology is being used to target drugs to particular organs and particular tissues.

Sifei Han: My research is focused on the drug delivery to a hidden tissue in our body, the lymphatic system, and this is related to the diseases with global relevance such as cancer therapy, and immunotherapy.

Joan Ho: I’m working on gene therapy, more specifically we’re trying to come up with a formulation to deliver DNA to cells of the nucleus. To do that we made some DNA complex’s to, hopefully, try to efficiently deliver that DNA.

Prof Colin Pouton: So in terms of drug delivery and distribution there’s no better place in the world to be. And we’re looking for students with a really inter-disciplinary feel. We like to encourage students who haven’t necessarily studied pharmaceutical science to study here, because we need that balance of basic science and applied science. And we actually have students from pure biological sciences, but also from engineering sciences and we need that mix to create all the ideas that are needed to take drug delivery forward.

Sifei Han: We collaborate, which is a very important feature for nowadays scientific research. I think everyone actually enjoys that a lot.

Prof Colin Pouton: I think there are some problems which are a long way from being solved continue to fascinate me and certainly make me get out of bed in the morning.


Research: Fighting Tropical Diseases.

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Prof Susan Charman: Malaria is a devastating disease that’s prevalent in some of the poorest regions of the world. It still kills about 650,000 people each year, and tragically, three quarters of those are kids below the age of five, mostly living in sub-Saharan Africa. We began working with the Medicines for Malaria venture in 2000, since that time we’ve contributed to a number of programs that have progressed, new drug candidates into pre-clinical and clinical development. The program that’s probably the most advanced really began through a collaboration with a group in Nebraska, medicinal chemists, and some biologists at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland. This program identified a completely new class of synthetic peroxide anti-malarials, and these compounds are quite interesting because they have all the potent, fast acting properties of the Artemisinins, however they’re completely synthetic. Artemisinins have to be extracted from a plant source, the synthetic peroxides can be synthesized in the lab, that makes them cheaper, it makes them more readily available. We’re working on a number of other targets, on a number of other disease categories, particularly Chagas Disease and Leishmania. These, again, are diseases that are prevalent in the poorest regions of the world. Currently available drugs are either not very effective for the long term treatment of these diseases, or they’re expensive, or they have some very serious side effects. The ultimate goal is to discover new medicines that are available to save people’s lives, to have an impact on quality of life. That’s really what it’s all about.