Professor Dame Margaret Brimble CChem FRSC
Winner: 2022 Organic Division open award:
The University of Auckland
For a large body of pioneering work spanning the fields of natural product synthesis, peptide chemistry, and medicinal chemistry.
Celebrate Professor Dame Margaret Brimble
Natural products have long been regarded as ‘nature’s medicine chest’, providing invaluable platforms for developing frontline drugs. Over 50% of all new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are ‘inspired’ by natural products. Dame Margaret’s research focuses on the synthesis of novel bioactive natural products (especially molecules derived from extreme environments and shellfish toxins) as novel anticancer, antibacterial and antiviral agents. She also works on the synthesis of antimicrobial peptides as potential new antibiotics and peptidomimetics as antiviral agents.
Dame Margaret’s team discovered the drug candidate NNZ2566 (named trofinetide by the World Health Organisation). It proved successful in phase 3 clinical trials (pending FDA approval in 2022) with Neuren Pharmaceuticals and Acadia Pharmaceuticals for the neurogenic disorder Rett Syndrome.Read winner biography
Dame Margaret Brimble is a Distinguished Professor and Director of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is an Associate Editor for Organic Letters, Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery and Past-President of IUPAC Organic and Biomolecular Division III. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and has been inducted into the American Chemical Society Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame. She has received the Rutherford, Hector and MacDiarmid medals (Royal Society of New Zealand), the Kiwinet BNZ Supreme award and Baldwins Research Entrepreneur 2019 commercialisation awards and the Marsden medal (New Zealand Association of Scientists). She was awarded the George and Christine Sosnovsky Award for Cancer Therapy and Natural Product Chemistry Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Her research focuses on the synthesis of novel bioactive natural products/antimicrobial peptides and the synthesis of lipopeptides for cancer vaccines and new biomaterials. She discovered the drug candidate trofinetide (NNZ2566) that was successful in phase 3 clinical trials for Rett Syndrome (Neuren Pharmaceuticals and Acadia Pharmaceuticals, pending approval by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2022) and NNZ2591 (phase 2 clinical trials for Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Pitt Hopkins and Prader-Willi Syndromes).
Dame Margaret is co-founder of the cancer immunotherapy company SapVax that has licensed her CLipPA peptide lipidation technology to develop self-adjuvanting peptide-based cancer vaccines. Her laboratory hosts New Zealand’s only laboratory accredited by Medsafe to manufacture peptides under the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations for human clinical trial.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
I loved the logic of organic chemistry and how one can predict how organic molecules react with each other to provide all the molecules essential for life.
What motivates you?
The potential that molecules we create in the lab could be used as potential new medicines. I am excited that a molecule we made over 20 years ago is getting over the last hurdle to become the first FDA approved drug to treat Rett syndrome which is a neurogenic disorder affecting females.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
It is a really creative career. The logic and organisation behind chemistry can be applied to many areas of life.
Can you tell us about a scientific development on the horizon that you are excited about?
The power of vaccines to treat cancer as well as prevent infectious disease.
Why is chemistry important?
All the molecules essential for life are understood by chemistry. Life is a mass of many chemical reactions.
What has been a highlight for you (either personally or in your career)?
Being the first female scientist elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, London, based on work carried out in New Zealand for the majority of my career.
What has been a challenge for you (either personally or in your career)?
Not having a network of senior female scientists to get help from. As an older female scientist, I have not been party to the many male networks in chemistry.
What does good research culture look like/mean to you?
Working with every student to achieve the best of their ability and work to their strengths. Ensuring everyone knows that research is a team effort and everyone plays a different part to achieve the best results. I also like to lead by example.
Why do you think teamwork is important in science?
A tweet I saw sums this up: "In our lab mistakes are expected, respected and corrected". People learn from a team that operates in a nurturing environment.
What is your favourite element?
I have to say carbon – I am an organic chemist!