News //

Strategic collaboration between New Zealand and Chinese scientists initiates quest for new cancer treatments

15 November 2013

The Maurice Wilkins Centre is delighted that researchers from the Centre are involved in both of the joint New Zealand-Chinese Strategic Research Alliance research projects in the non-communicable disease category announced last night.

Both arose directly from the Centre’s efforts over the last two years to link researchers from across New Zealand with high level research institutes in China. The projects will focus on developing new classes of drugs to treat cancer.

Maurice Wilkins Centre deputy director Professor Peter Shepherd, who has led the development of the relationship with China, says: “This is a wonderful opportunity to build meaningful long term collaborative science links with China that combine 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.”

One project, headed by Dr Jeff Smaill in collaboration with 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 Professor Shepherd, involves fellow University of Auckland researchers Professor Bill Denny, Professor Cris Print, and Dr Annette Lasham and Professor Antony Braithwaite from the University of Otago. They will collaborate with Professor Ming-Wei Wang at the National Center for Drug Screening / Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a project focused on developing new anti-cancer drugs against three new genetically defined targets.

Both collaborations arose from relationships the Centre has built with Chinese scientists and research institutions. The Maurice Wilkins Centre is a national centre of research excellence that brings together 145 scientists from around the country, including most of the country’s drug discovery capabilities.

In recent years, the Centre has been establishing strategic links between New Zealand and other countries in biomedical science. China is a major focus, and in addition to reciprocal scientific visits, the Centre has been building connections at regional and state government level. This culminated last year with a visit to the Centre by Madam Liu Yandong, then a State Councillor, and now a Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

The funding for the two cancer projects was awarded under the Strategic Research Alliance (SRA) Joint Research Programme, which helps facilitate science research collaboration and the commercialisation of science between China and New Zealand. The SRA is jointly funded by the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

The results of the selection process were jointly announced in China last night by the Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, with his Chinese counterpart, Professor Wan Gang, Chinese Minister of Science and Technology.

“Science and innovation are drivers of economic growth and international competitiveness. 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 said.

“These research areas are of interest and importance to both New Zealand and China. By combining each other’s strengths and expertise, our researchers can produce outcomes which will benefit our countries as well as the rest of the world. Professor Wan and I have high expectations that the work from the projects selected will prove to be mutually beneficial for our countries. We both look forward to continued collaboration in the science and innovation areas.”