Alumni Update

UniSA researchers have discovered a potential new drug to treat childhood leukaemia

Professor Shudong Wang

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences

Professor Shudong Wang in the lab
Professor Shudong Wang in the lab

World-renowned researcher, Professor Shudong Wang, is leading the team at UniSA’s School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences in the fight against cancer. Prof Wang’s research focuses on drug discovery and development in forging inventive multidisciplinary approaches. She is currently working to beat childhood leukaemia using new orally deliverable drugs – with financial support from Tour de Cure.

Mixed lineage leukaemia (MLL) is the most aggressive form of blood cancer in children. Currently, only 20% of children with the MLL gene are cured, despite patient’s receiving high intensity chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation. The rearrangement of the MLL gene is the most common genetic event occurring in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

This very unfortunate prognosis emphasizes the pressing need to develop more effective therapies for treatment. Prof Wang and her team have identified a highly potent and orally deliverable CDK9 inhibitor drug molecule that blocks the manifestation of MLL genes and causes the cancer cells to die.

“This advancement is very significant, as it has the potential to provide a new oral drug that is highly efficient and a safe treatment for childhood leukaemia,” Prof Wang says.

“The next step from here is to progress this drug discovery program towards clinic and develop this new drug - which has minimal side-effects - to treat the disease.”

“CDK9-mediated expression of cancer survival proteins is a hallmark of many types of cancers.

“As such, our CDK9 inhibitor drug candidate represents ideal therapy for a wide range of cancers beyond AML and ALL.

“For example, we have previously shown that CDK9 inhibitor can be effective in treating ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.”

Prof Wang is an internationally recognised leader in the development of cancer therapeutics and has a strong track record with several drugs in pre-clinical and clinical development. She also heads up the Centre for Drug Discovery and Development at the University of South Australia. Tour de Cure has recognised the high potential and social value of Prof Wang’s research, and has pledged a significant donation to help this come to fruition.

Tour de Cure is an Item 1, not-for-profit cancer charity. Since 2007, Tour de Cure has raised in excess of $24 million and funded over 252 cancer research, support and prevention projects, leading to 18 cancer breakthroughs. Tour de Cure conducts an annual ‘Research, Support and Prevention Project Tender’ where beneficiaries submit project funding requests to their Board. Prof Wang and her team are one of the successful applicants in 2016.

To support Prof Wang’s research and help to find a cure to cancer, including childhood leukaemia, please make a donation online.

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