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The Ferrier Research Institute – Victoria University of Wellington

The Ferrier Research Institute is a specialist team of carbohydrate chemistry researchers at Victoria University of Wellington led by Professor Richard Furneaux. The Institute’s research spans drug discovery, cancer immunology, polysaccharide analysis, gut health and the formulation of new renewable polymers.

The Institute’s success is built on quality science and commercial opportunity. The foundation of much of this success is the Institute’s more than 25 year-long collaboration with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and particularly with one of its leading academics and biology researchers Professor Vern Schramm. Sparked by a meeting in 1994 at a New York yacht club and the drawing of the chemical structure of a complex molecule on a bar napkin (the stuff of legends), the collaboration has been fruitful in terms of top class science and IP generation.

Professors Furneaux and Schramm and their research teams specialise in the design and synthesis of compounds that mimic the properties of the active site of an enzyme at its transition state (the point at which a compound is being transformed by the enzyme). Applying this approach to specific enzymes that are implicated in a number of important diseases, complex molecules are targeted for synthesis and evaluation as potential therapeutic agents. To date, they have had drug candidates in clinical trials for T-cell cancers, psoriasis and gout.

Patent attorneys at Catalyst Intellectual Property, working closely with Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s New York patent attorneys, have helped build one of the most valuable and important pharmaceutical patent portfolios of any research group in New Zealand. The resulting patents have been the cornerstone of several seven figure licence deals with large multinational pharmaceutical companies.

“The strongest form of intellectual property is that which protects composition of matter, in our case specific small molecule drug candidates” said Prof Furneaux. “The bulk of our patents are about such molecules and how they can be prepared. The chemists who make these compounds are based in New Zealand, so it has been logical to use local attorneys to draft and prosecute our patent portfolio internationally. That this has been continued to be the case for over 25 years speaks volumes for the quality of their work and the appreciation of this by the US co-owners.”

“The output of much of our research is patent protected pharmaceutical drug candidates as the basis for investment and development by the private sector. Our chemists, with their biological research partners and experienced patent attorneys, have proven to be an internationally competitive combination.”

Professor Peter Tyler from the Ferrier Research Institute was awarded the 2017 MacDiarmid Medal for his work on revolutionary drug design technology that targets the enzymes of many diseases, including cancer, malaria and Alzheimer’s disease.  Watch an interview with Professor Tyler here.

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