Organic chemistry

University researchers are working with world-class biologists and fellow global leaders in organic chemistry to tackle diseases such as cancer.

Antimicrobial resistance, multiple sclerosis and bone and tissue repair are all within their sights as they seek to create new drugs, vaccines and immunotherapies, along with applications for agriculture, fisheries and industry.

The esteem in which our researchers are held is reflected in the funding bodies and commercial partners that put their trust in them.

Funding support

The University's chemistry researchers are working on projects that have received many millions of dollars from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund, the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s Marsden Fund and the Health Research Council.

International funding has come from such sources as the United States government’s National Institutes of Health research agency and Worldwide Cancer Research.

Spearheading progress

Organic chemistry has always been a strength at Victoria University of Wellington, from Thomas Easterfield, one of our founding professors, through to our Ferrier Research Institute, named to honour the late Professor Robin Ferrier, who pioneered carbohydrate chemistry in New Zealand.

Carbohydrate chemistry is a particular focus of the University. Our researchers are studying the important roles of carbohydrate molecules in immune system responses to produce new and better vaccines and treat autoimmune diseases.

As well as at Ferrier, organic chemists work in our School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, including in the interdisciplinary Centre for Biodiscovery, which is also part of the School of Biological Sciences. The Centre’s mission is to enhance health and wellbeing through the discovery and application of nature-inspired products and processes. Victoria University of Wellington is particularly known for our strength in the discovery of natural organic molecules with drug capability. Diagnosis and treatment of cancer and neurological and infectious diseases are major areas of emphasis.

Collaborating to succeed

Our chemists often collaborate with the independent Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, which is located next to the Wellington Faculty of Science on our Kelburn campus.

Our recent successes include the Japanese government’s 2017 approval of Mundesine® for hard-to-treat lymphomas, the development of which followed initial research at Ferrier in conjunction with long-time collaborators at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Ferrier’s relationship with Albert Einstein College of Medicine has resulted in five other lead drug candidates, covered by 160 patents, with applications against malaria, the Zika and Ebola viruses, and gout.

Awards and recognition

In 2017, Ferrier Director Professor Richard Furneaux received the Supreme Award at the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards, for overall excellence in all core areas of research commercialisation, while Ferrier’s Professor Peter Tyler received the MacDiarmid Medal at the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s New Zealand Research Honours awards, for outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application for human benefit.

The University's chemists have a long history of receiving prestigious awards, and many have been recognised with fellowships of the Royal Society Te Apārangi, the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom and the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry,

Our researchers publish in leading international journals, including the Journal of Organic Chemistry, Organic Letters, Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry and the Journal of Carbohydrate Chemistry.

Organic chemistry stories

Kick-starting immune response

Research by a team of our scientists could lead to improved immune responses and reduce side-effects for existing vaccines, as well as help build new ones.

New drug development

Japan has become the first country to approve an anti-lymphoma drug developed following initial research from Victoria University of Wellington.