Highlights //

New strategic alliance with China (2013)

Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators lead two research grants awarded in 2013 under the New Zealand-China Strategic Research Alliance (SRA).

New Strategic Alliance With ChinaThe SRA is aimed at facilitating science research collaboration and the commercialisation of science between China and New Zealand. Both collaborations will look at developing drugs to treat cancer and have resulted from the MWC’s programme to build strategic relationships with Chinese scientists and research institutions. This programme has involved six bilateral exchanges by groups of scientists and included a visit to the centre in 2012 by Madam Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

MWC deputy director Professor Peter Shepherd, who has led the development of relationships with China says: “This is a wonderful opportunity to build meaningful long term collaborative science links with China, that combines New Zealand know-how in cancer drug discovery with China’s awesome technical capabilities. The research has significant potential to deliver health and economic benefits to both countries.”

MWC investigators have extensive experience in drug development, having been involved in bringing 15 anti-cancer compounds to trial – “more than a lot of pharmaceutical companies have done in the same period of time,” Peter says. China is set to become a
scientific powerhouse, having invested heavily in scientific research, and offers access to resources beyond the financial reach of New Zealand institutes. “Take high through put screening for example.The National Centre for Drug Screening has 1.5 million compounds and all the robots you need. We bring exciting new projects. It’s win-win for both parties.”

One project, headed by MWC investigators Dr Jeff Smaill and Associate Professor Adam Patterson, both from the University of Auckland, involves work with Professor Ke Ding at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It will look at developing new drugs to target smoking-related lung cancer. Another, led by Peter, involves fellow University of Auckland researchers Dr Annette Lasham, Professor Bill Denny and Associate Professor Cris Print, along with Professor Antony Braithwaite from the University of Otago. They will collaborate with Professor Ming-Wei Wang at the NCDS at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, to develop new anticancer drugs against three new genetically defined targets.

The SRA is jointly funded by the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. The two new projects comprise an area of the SRA focused on non-communicable diseases.

The selection process results were announced in November, in New Zealand by the Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, and by his Chinese counterpart, Professor Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology. “China is a key strategic partner for New Zealand in science and innovation and the SRA helps strengthen this partnership on both sides,” Mr Joyce says. “By combining each other’s strengths and expertise, our researchers can produce outcomes which will benefit our countries.”

Feature image: Collaborators meeting in New Zealand. From left, Dr Lu, Associate Professor Adam Patterson, Dr Jeff Smaill, Professor Ke Ding, and Professor Donghai Wu.

Image courtesy of Dr Jeff Smaill.