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Grant boosts research into less toxic anti-cancer drug

Dr Mark Agostino, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, School of Biomedical Sciences, was recently presented with a $14,000 WA Early Career Investigator Grant from the Cancer Council, for his research into creating a less toxic anti-cancer drug.

Dr Agostino, with Professor Ricardo Mancera, School of Biomedical Sciences, Professor Peter Scammells and Dr Ben Capuano, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been working to improve the molecular structure of noscapine.

“A drug based on noscapine is likely to be less toxic compared to other anti-cancer drugs, as noscapine has had a long history of safe clinical use,” Dr Agostino said.

“Noscapine also seems to more selectively target cancer cells, whereas other drugs that act through a similar mechanism tend to target all cells, resulting in the side effects typically associated with cancer chemotherapy.”

Dr Mark Agostino, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, School of Biomedical Sciences.
Dr Mark Agostino has been awarded a WA Early Career Investigator Grant from the Cancer Council.

The most significant expense Dr Agostino has for his structure-based drug design research is the cost of software, which his grant will now fund.

“Leading software packages have techniques for looking at how potential drug molecules might interact with proteins, methods for summarising patterns across a range of potential drug molecules and methods for generating large libraries of molecules prior to their production,” he said.

“Computer-based techniques, such as what I employ in my research, allow us to focus our efforts on making and testing only the most promising potential drug molecules, saving time and money.”

As well as research into improving noscapine as an anti-cancer agent, Dr Agostino is working on a range of structural biology and drug design projects, including projects focused on elucidating the structural basis of molecular mechanisms of cancer development. He is currently supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Early Career Fellowship, which is focused on understanding how human and pathogen-derived proteins interact with antibodies.