Leading a renaissance in natural drug discovery

Professor Ron Quinn AM, Principal Research Leader at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.
Professor Ron Quinn AM, Principal Research Leader at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.

Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute has published two recent papers outlining the world-leading contributions that the Queensland Compound Library (QCL) and Nature Bank are making in the discovery of new drugs.

Director of The Eskitis Institute, Professor Ronald J. Quinn AM said it is the unique interaction of these two facilities in harnessing the chemistry of natural compounds which sets the Eskitis Institute apart.

Considerable expertise in screening natural product fractions has been developed at Eskitis over the past two decades,” Professor Quinn said.

Banking on nature

Griffith’s Nature Bank is a unique drug discovery resource based on natural products found in Australia, China and Papua New Guinea. It comprises more than 45,000 samples of plants and marine invertebrates, 200,000 semi-purified fractions, 3,250 pure compounds and over 600 naturally-occurring fragments.QCL Manager, Ms Moana Simpson, said that the QCL is Australia’s national facility for the storage and distribution of compound collections.

“The QCL can store up to 600,000 compounds in tubes and 1.5 million compounds in microplates,” said Ms Simpson.

QCL Director, Associate Professor Sally-Ann Poulsen, said collaboration between chemists and biologists is necessary in the search for modern drugs.

“Many of the compounds in the QCL have come from chemistry labs throughout Australia and these compounds are sent to scientists for drug discovery projects,” Associate Professor Poulsen said.

“It’s vital that the international chemical biology research community knows about the Queensland Compound Library, what services we offer, and the ways in which we can benefit and expand their research.”

Growing global interest

Professor Quinn agreed that never before has there been such strong interest in testing the natural product fractions of Nature Bank.

“Since 2005 the QCL has enhanced our in-house drug discovery capabilities, as well as sending hundreds of thousands of fractions to our partners around the world,” Professor Quinn said.

“It is now possible to undertake high-throughput screening (HTS) of 100,000s of natural product fractions in only a few days against drug targets. This leads to the discovery of many more useful compounds which could be developed into new drugs to treat serious illness such as cancer, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.”

Nature Bank and the QCL have together created an environment that encourages collaborations between scientists around the world. The stage is now set for a renaissance of natural products to make a big difference to drug discovery.

“Ultimately, our work will have major implications for world health, in particular for people in developing nations. And it is that what drives us every day in our work at the Eskitis Institute,” Professor Quinn said.

The articles can be found at;An Overview of Australia’s Compound Management Facility: The Queensland Compound Library Moana Simpson and Sally-Ann Poulsen,ACS Chemical Biology 2014 9 (1), 28-33Nature Bank and the Queensland Compound Library: Unique International Resources at the Eskitis Institute for Drug DiscoveryCamp D, Newman S, Pham NB, Quinn RJ.Combinatorial Chemistry and High Throughput Screening 2014 Jan 9.