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Distinguished professors

13 December 2011

Three Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators are amongst the thirteen professors who have been appointed to the rank of Distinguished Professor at The University of Auckland – principal investigators Margaret Brimble and Bill Denny, and associate investigator Ian Reid.

The title recognises professors who have achieved international eminence of the highest order in their fields of research and study. The new appointees join Maurice Wilkins Centre principal investigators Ted Baker and Peter Hunter who were named Distinguished Professors in 2001.

The following profiles were published in The University of Auckland magazine UniNews:

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, principal investigator

The natural world is a treasure-trove of chemical compounds that have the potential to treat human disease. Margaret is a renowned chemist who creates synthetic copies of promising compounds from nature, so that they may be produced in large quantities and modified for therapeutic use.

Her laboratory works on bioactive compounds that have been isolated from plants, animal tissue, microbes or marine and soil organisms which are rare or hard to isolate in abundance from nature. She has led the development of many medicinal compounds, such as new antibiotics, agents to treat diabetes and cancer, and a drug candidate in the final stage of human clinical trials for the treatment of traumatic brain injury.

Her work has been recognised with numerous national and international awards, including the 2011 Adrien Albert Award from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, the 2010 Royal Society of Chemistry UK Natural Products Chemistry Award and a 2008 World Class New Zealand Award. She was named the 2007 L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Asia-Pacific Laureate in Materials Science and was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to science in the 2012 New Year’s Honours.

Margaret studied for her undergraduate and MSc degrees at The University of Auckland before travelling to the University of Southampton for her PhD. She currently holds the Chair of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry and leads a large research group in the School of Chemical Sciences. She is chair of the board of trustees of the Rutherford Foundation, a past-member of the Marsden Fund Council, past-president of the International Society of Heterocyclic Chemistry, a titular member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry Organic and Biomolecular Division and a principal investigator of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery and the Centre for Brain Research.

Distinguished Professor Bill Denny, principal investigator

Professor Bill Denny has had a truly outstanding academic career. His particular area of expertise is medicinal chemistry focusing on cancer chemotherapeutic agents.

His interests include all aspects of the design and evaluation of small-molecule chemotherapeutic agents, and he has been involved in the development of 12 anticancer drugs to clinical trial. He is currently involved in developing new drugs to treat tuberculosis (TB) more effectively – a disease which is re-emerging as a world health emergency.

He has published more than 600 peer reviewed papers, been granted 75 patents and has led the commercialisation activities of a wide variety of agents. He also co-founded Proacta Inc (NZ and San Diego) and Pathway Therapeutics Ltd (San Francisco), and is co-director of the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre.

Bill is recipient of a long list of significant distinctions. He was appointed an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (ONZM) for his services to cancer research in the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. He received the Rutherford Medal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Adrian Albert Medal of the UK Royal Society of Chemistry, and the University’s Gluckman Medal. He was named NZBio Biotechnologist of the year in 2007.

Distinguished Professor Ian Reid, associate investigator

Professor Ian Reid reached a position of international prominence through his groundbreaking research into the causes and treatment of osteoporosis and Paget’s disease. Highlights have been a leading role in the development of the bisphosphonate class of drugs for treating both these conditions (resulting in effective cure of Paget’s disease), demonstration of the critical role of fat tissue in regulating bone metabolism, and studies linking calcium supplements with an increased risk of heart attack.

Ian is a Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology, and Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. His research group has also been active in identifying novel regulators of bone cell function and the development of a number of other treatment modalities.

Ian is a former president of the International Bone and Mineral Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He has authored more than 460 scientific publications and has 15 granted patents.

Within the University he has received an Alumni Achievement Award, a Hood Fellowship and the Gluckman Medal, and internationally an honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians (2006), and research awards from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (2010), the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (2010), and the International Bone and Mineral Society (2011).