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Our research

Innovative approaches to understand and target disease
From ground-breaking fundamental research to preclinical screening and lead optimisation, we have over 150 research members across the University with significant capability in five major disease areas.

Cancer

Our researchers are working to unlock the molecular mechanisms of cancers, developing innovative molecules for targeted interventions and more effective treatments in partnership with the Cancer Research Network.

Read more about the DDI's cancer research here.

A chief investigator, lecturer and group leader in the University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy and co-Chair of Sydney Nano's NanoPharma cluster, Dr Pegah Varamini’s (pictured above right) research focuses on develop novel targeted therapies for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer. She was a team leader in the 2020/21 SPARK Sydney program, hosted by the DDI in collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine and Health.

Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases

Diseases relating to metabolic and cardiovascular disorder, such as diabetes and obesity, represent a rapidly growing health problem in Australia and globally. Drug discovery researchers in these areas are pursuing therapeutic leads to target such diseases, working in collaboration with the Cardiovascular Initiative and Charles Perkins Centre.

Read more about the DDI's cardiovascular and metabolic diseases research here.

A group leader specialising in synthesis of novel bioactive small molecules at the School of Chemistry, Dr Jonathan Danon (pictured above right) began a prestigious NHMRC research fellowship in 2022 focusing on developing novel compounds for studying and treating disorders of the brain.

Dr Danon is also currently a member of the DDI ECR Committee, which aims to provide early career researchers and Higher Degree by Research students with events, opportunities and representation.

Central nervous system disorders

Neurodegenerative and central nervous system disorders such as dementia and systemic pain, affect 1 in 5 Australians and are becoming increasingly prevalent as our life-spans increase. We are working with researchers at the Brain and Mind Centre to identify targets and develop lead compounds that selectively modulate the central nervous system.

Read more about the DDI's central nervous system disorders research here.

Dr Eleanor Drummond is looking to advance understanding of what, exactly, causes Alzheimer's disease - and what can be done to arrest its progression.

"No drug has been developed that can bring back neurons and synapses, so we’ve got to act before this begins to happen," she says.

For her intriguing research, Dr Drummond was awarded $20,000 as part of the DDI's 2022 EMCR Seed Funding Program.

Infectious diseases

Our researchers are working to tackle the spread of infectious diseases and overcome drug resistance by discovering new targets and lead compounds for tuberculosis, malaria and fungal infections. This research is in collaboration with the Sydney Infectious Diseases Institute.

We are also supporting urgent research into antimicrobial and COVID-19 drug discovery through platforms for drug screening and protein production and a seed funding program in partnership with Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases.

Read more about the DDI's infectious diseases research here.

As Principal Research Fellow in Infectious Diseases Medicine at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, Associate Professor Julie Djordjevic​​​​​​​ (pictured above right) says that "the ultimate goal is to make a pan-fungal drug."

A/Prof Djordjevic received seed funding from the DDI and Sydney ID in 2019 and 2021, which she says has been pivotal in helping her antifungal therapy research project gain momentum and be published in journals such as Biomolecules.

Inflammation

Regulating the body’s inflammatory responses for treating pain and inflammation have applications in a growing list of disorders.

Our research focuses on the identification and validation of novel targets implicated in pain, inflammation and autoimmunity, with potential applications in the understanding and treatment of cancers, central nervous system, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.

Read more about the DDI's inflammation research here.

A lecturer and researcher at the Charles Perkins Centre and Westmead Hospital, Dr Belal Chami's research examines reactive oxygen species and inflammation in the setting of chronic inflammatory etiologies such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

For the 80,000 Australians that suffer from IBD, it's clear that there needs to be a prognostic tool that works quickly, accurately and conveniently. This is what Dr Chami is aiming to discover - something that could allow IBD patients to manage their chronic disease in the comfort of their own homes.

DDI-funded projects

  • Discovery of novel anti-tubercular Ohmyungsamycin natural product analogues through mRNA display (Dr Jason Johansen-Leete)
  • Optimisation of peptide inhibitors using structure-based design towards new targeted therapies for osteosarcomas (Dr Lisa Alcock)
  • Understanding the mechanism of action of a novel antifungal drug target (Dr Pooja Sethiya)
  • A PROTAC development platform against TDP-43 as a target in neurodegenerative disorders (Dr Michael Gotsbacher)
  • SMOC1: A New Potential Therapeutic Target for Alzheimer’s Disease (Dr Eleanor Drummond)
  • Targeted Peptide-Based Radiotheranostics for Triple Negative Breast Cancer (Dr Pegah Varamini)
  • Screening nitroxides for antimicrobial activity in 2 models of infection (Prof Paul Witting, Dr Belal Chami, A/Prof Jim Manos, Dr Stefan Oehlers, Dr Kathryn Wright)
  • Addressing Resistant Gram Negative Pathogens Through the Potentiation of the Activity of Clinically Approved Antibiotics (Prof Paul Groundwater, Dr Jonathan Du, Prof Dai Hibbs, Prof Eric Sundberg, Prof Nicolas Sluis-Cremer, A/Prof Thomas Grewal, Dr Hien Duong)
  • The active and selective import of anticancer agents as a potential antibacterial mechanism (Prof Rachel Codd, Prof Philip Hogg, Dr Michael Gotsbacher, Dr Theerthankar Das)
  • Antimicrobial peptide discovery in two frog species (Dr Emma Peel, Dr Katherine Farquharson, Dr Deborah Bower, Dr Simon Clulow, Dr Alex Norman, Prof Kathy Belov, Dr Carolyn Hogg)
  • Adapting fungal strategies to deliver antifungal agents (Dr Kenya Fernandes, Prof Dee Carter, Prof Richard Payne, Prof Margie Sunde)
  • Exploiting inositol polyphosphate kinases for antifungal drug development using novel inhibitor scaffolds (A/Prof Julie Djordjevic, Desmarini Desmarini, Dr Lorna Wilkinson-White, Prof Xiaodong Wang, Prof Sharon Chen, Dr Mario Torrado del Rey, Dr Chandrika Deshpande)
  • Fragment-directed cyclic peptide inhibitors for the treatment of adolescent bone cancer (Dr Charlotte Franck, Jason Johansen-Leete, Sven Ullrich, Dr Anupriya Aggarwal, Dr Toby Passioura, Dr Anneliese Ashhurst, A/Prof Stuart Turville, Dr Christoph Nitsche, Prof Richard Payne
  • Creating mature cardiomyocytes from patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells to assess anti-arrhythmic drugs (Dr Aaron Gilmour, Dr Clara Tran and Dr Seakcheng Lim)
  • Developing the next generation of senolytic drugs for cardiovascular diseases (Dr Matthew Graus and Dr Paul Coleman)
  • Unlocking cardiovascular disease by engineering patient-specific blood vessel mimics (Dr Praveesuda Michael, Dr Marie Besnier, Dr Yuan Lam, Dr Richard Tan, Dr Nianji Jang)
  • A PROTAC-based bioengineering platform for more efficacious antiplatelet drug discovery (Dr Xuyu Liu and Dr Daniel Ford)
  •  Creating Hit-to-lead optimisation of small molecules that reduce toxic TDP-43 inclusions in cellular models of frontotemporal dementia (Dr Andrew Montgomery)
  • Novel Cyclic Peptides Targeting FXII for the Treatment of Diabetic Wounds (Dr Daniel Ford)
  • Identifying effective drugs to target hypoxia with high-throughput screening-a new approach to overcome radioresistance of Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG)    (Dr Han Shen)
  • Characterization of LRSBP: A novel SARS-CoV-2 spike protein receptor that suppresses infection(Dr Lipin Loo)
  • Targeting cMYC: A new assault on an unconquered summit (Dr Jason Low)
  • Promoting blood vessel formation in hypoxic tissue by manipulating a novel oxygen sensing pathway (Dr Mark White)
  • Fragment-directed cyclic peptide inhibitors for the treatment of adolescent bone cancer (Dr Yu Heng Lau)
  • Discovery of Potent SARS‐CoV‐2 Entry Inhibitors via mRNA Display (Richard Payne, Toby Passioura, Joel Mackay, Annelise Ashhurst)
  • Further development of CoVID-19 targeted monobodies as therapeutic and diagnostic reagents (Jason Low, Joel Mackay, Toby Passioura, Jamie Triccas)
  • Cholesterol accumulation in late endosomes/lysosomes to reduce coronavirus infection (Thomas Grewal, Phil Hansbro, Kim Chan)
  • Therapeutic targeting of TGF-β and Smad3 in SARS-CoV-2 infection (Tim Newsome, Hannah Sassi)
  • Development and application of a new drug discovery strategy to valuable therapeutic targets(Joel Mackay, Richard Payne, Jason Low, Mary Christie)
  • Tumour-Selective Metal Chelators for Multiple Theranostic Applications (Louis Rendina, Peter Rutledge, Peter Lay, Rachel Codd, Zdenka Kuncic, Viive Howeel, Kelly McKelvey, Dale Bailey, Hillary Byrne, Alexander Engel, Mitra Safavi-Naeini, Benjamin Fraser, Nigel Lengkeek)
  • Identifying inhibitors of a fungal inositol polyphosphate kinase as a new antifungal therapy  (Julianne Djordjevic, Jacqueline Matthews, Lorna Wilkinson-White, Tania Sorrell, Philip Thompson (Monash))
  • Screening Stem Cell-Derived Inhibitory Neurons to find novel pain killers (Greg Neely, Mary Collins)
Andrew Montgomery

DDI Fellow: Dr Andrew Montgomery

With a background in medicinal, organic and computational chemistry, Dr Andrew Montgomery - the inaugural DDI Fellow - sees his future in the field of drug discovery. Find out more about his work, and how he's benefited from being part of the DDI community.


Find out how the DDI can help to support your research.