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Innovative cancer vaccine technology wins international award

09 May 2018
Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, School of Chemical Sciences
Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble from the Faculty of Science’s School of Chemical Sciences has been selected by the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) to receive the 2018 George & Christine Sosnovsky Award in Cancer Therapy.

The award, bestowed by the Awards Committee of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry Biology Interface Division, is in recognition of Professor Brimble’s work in developing a novel innovative chemistry platform to generate fully-synthetic, self-adjuvanting cancer vaccines for the treatment of different cancers.

Professor Brimble is the only woman and first New Zealander to receive the biennial award.

She says: “Application of clever chemistry provides the basis for many advances in the life sciences and this is often overlooked by the scientific community - so I am delighted to accept this prestigious award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.”

Born and raised in Auckland, Professor Brimble is the Director of Medicinal Chemistry and a Distinguished Professor at the University of Auckland where her research programme focuses on the synthesis of bioactive natural products and peptides as potential new medicines to treat diseases including cancer.

“While investigating the synthesis of complex lipopeptide natural products we discovered an innovative chemistry method to attach a lipid to a peptide,” Professor Brimble explains.

“This novel lipidation technology is being used to generate fully-synthetic, self-adjuvanting cancer vaccines. The work is being translated to the clinic by the ‘spin-out’ company SapVax who are developing a pipeline of products for the treatment of different cancers.”

“We painstakingly assemble the desired vaccines systematically in the laboratory using a complex game of ‘molecular chess’,” she says. The synthetic vaccines produced can also be fine-tuned to optimise the desired properties that are required to treat the specific cancer and remove undesired properties, such as unwanted side effects.

In making their decision the Royal Society of Chemistry’s selection committee considered the following aspects of each nomination: originality of research, impact of research, quality of publications and/or patents and/or software, innovation, professional standing, collaborations and teamwork.

Professor Brimble receives £2000 and a medal. In addition, she has been invited to deliver lectures about her work at up to four UK universities between September 2018 and May 2019.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is based in the UK, with offices in six countries and more than 54,000 members. A not-for-profit organisation established by Royal Charter in 1848, it is the UK’s professional body for chemical scientists, supporting and representing their members and bringing together chemical scientists from all over the world.

Associated information

Publications relating to the award

“Direct Peptide Lipidation through Thiol-ene Coupling Enables Rapid Synthesis and Evaluation of Self-adjuvanting Vaccine Candidates” T. Wright, A. Didsbury, G. Williams, P. Harris, R. Dunbar and M. A. Brimble, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2013, 52, 10616-10619.

“Lipidation of Cysteine or Cysteine-Containing Peptides Using the Thiol-ene Reaction (CLipPA)” S. Yang, P. Harris, G. Williams and  M. A. Brimble, Eur. J. Org. Chem., 2016, 33, 2608-2616 - Front Cover, Hot Article

“Peptide Lipidation – A Synthetic Strategy to Afford Peptide-Based Therapeutics” R. Kowalczyk, P. Harris, G. Williams, and  M. A. Brimble, in Peptides and Peptide-Based Biomaterials and their Biomedical Applications, P. Bergquist (Ed.), 2017, pp 185-228; Springer Book Series “Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology.” (Invited Book Chapter)


M. A. Brimble, P. Dunbar, G. Williams, D. Verdon, “Amino Acid and Peptide Conjugates and Uses Thereof” PCT Int. Patent WO2016/103192, published 30 Jun 2016; M. A. Brimble, P. Dunbar, P. Harris, G. Williams, T. Wright, “Amino Acid and Peptide Conjugates and Conjugation Process” PCT Int. Patent WO/2014/207708, published 31 Dec 2014.