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Newly funded research highlights MWC collaborations

7 November 2016

Professor Gavin Painter from Victoria University’s Ferrier Research Institute has been awarded funding in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2016 Endeavour Fund science investment round. 

Professor Painter will lead a team of fellow investigators from the Maurice Wilkins Centre to develop vaccine technologies to complement existing immune therapy for cancer immunotherapies.

Current immune therapy drugs, such as Keytruda and Opdivo, work by blocking molecules on immune cells that prevent them from destroying cancer cells. However these drugs don't work in all patients. The aim of the newly funded research programme is to develop non-toxic cancer vaccines that can trigger stronger immune attack on tumours, and enable more patients to get benefit from immune therapy.

The five year research programme will draw on the expertise of chemists and biologists from across New Zealand’s Maurice Wilkins Centre network, with funding split between a number of existing research groups.

“The funding enables us to bring together mature research programmes from Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators based at the Ferrier and Malaghan Research Institutes and the University of Auckland,” Professor Painter said.

“Researchers at the University of Otago will also provide support.”

Professor Painter acknowledged the track records of Wellington and Auckland based groups to develop commercial entities around their research: “It’s exciting to be able to combine our knowledge and expertise in translational drug development.”

Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre, Professor Rod Dunbar, said such a major investment in immune therapy from the Endeavour Fund underscores both the potential impact of the research and the strength of the team.

Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators involved include Professor Ian Hermans from the Malaghan Research Institute, and Professor Rod Dunbar and Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble from the University of Auckland. The research will combine their complementary chemistry and immunology skills, and the University of Otago’s drug formulation experience.