Medicine in the making

In 1998, Professor Richard Furneaux was knocking on pharmaceutical companies’ doors to tell them of his team’s promising new chemical compound.

Professor Richard Furneaux

This year, the compound was approved in Japan as the active ingredient behind a new drug, Mundesine®, which is a treatment for patients with a specific type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Richard’s 20-year-long efforts earned him the top honour in the 2017 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards, with the Victoria scientist taking home the BNZ Supreme Award and the Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award.

The judges described Richard as “a world-class research entrepreneur”, and his story as “one of enormous achievement”.

Starting out as a synthetic chemist, today Richard leads a team of 40 scientists at Victoria’s Ferrier Research Institute. Ferrier’s innovative medical drug compounds have been licensed to international pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies, and have generated tens of millions of dollars of economic activity for New Zealand.

The Institute’s most successful commercial deal, in conjunction with Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is its 16-year relationship with United States company BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

This relationship has spawned four generations of novel compounds covered by over 160 granted patents, yielding six lead drug candidates with applications as diverse as cancer, gout, psoriasis, transplant rejection and malaria. Mundesine® was developed in the field of oncology by pharmaceutical company Mundipharma under licence from BioCryst.

Richard says he’s thrilled with his team’s successes. “It’s a real honour to receive these awards for myself and our talented team of scientists, collaborators and commercial partners. I’m grateful for those who have persevered with me.

“At the Ferrier Institute we’re always looking for areas where we can apply our chemistry in ways that differentiate us, and have future benefit for New Zealand.” Mundesine® is a registered trade mark (in Japan) of Mundipharma AG.