School of Medical Sciences

Cancer clinical pharmacology group



We are a research group of eight staff and students working on translational and clinical projects concerned with the clinical pharmacology and development of anticancer drugs. Our group mission is to reduce suffering and mortality from cancer by generating pharmacological knowledge about new and existing anticancer drugs for ultimate use in their clinical applications.


Current research projects are exploring novel DMXAA-based drug combinations, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and novel anticancer drugs in phase I trials.

DMXAA (5,6-dimethylxanthenone-4-acetic acid, AS1404, ASA404) is a tumour vascular disrupting agent that was discovered and developed at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre. Our group has had a leading role in multi-centre phase I and II trials of DMXAA. These trials recently culminated in the licensing of DMXAA to Novartis Pharmaceuticals and the development of a registration strategy for the drug. A phase III trial now plans to recruit 1200 patients over an 18 month period to study DMXAA (1800 mg/m2) in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel as first-line treatment for locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. Our group was the first global centre to open and recruit patients to this trial, in April 2008.

Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is a common and often neglected side-effect of many anticancer drugs. The mechanisms of anticancer drug neurotoxicity are poorly understood and no effective clinical intervention is currently available for its prevention or symptomatic management. An aim of our current research is the identification of drug transporters expressed by peripheral neurons that become damaged by anticancer drugs. Recently, we demonstrated strong neuronal expression of copper transporters and organic cation transporters in the dorsal root ganglia of rats and now are attempting to understand their roles in the neurotoxicity of chemotherapy drugs and potential as therapeutic targets or biomarkers.

We have established a group of clinical research staff, facilities and a dedicated clinic to support phase I oncology trials and the strategy of adding value to novel anticancer technologies discovered at the University of Auckland or elsewhere. Currently we have ongoing phase I trials of several novel anticancer drugs, including: PR104, a hypoxia-activated nitrogen mustard; AS1409, a fusion protein of IL-12 and EDB-fibronectin monoclonal antibody, and; ASA404, a flavonoid tumour vascular disrupting agent.


Our group contributes to research-led teaching at the School of Medical Sciences via a postgraduate paper (MEDSIC 723 - Cancer Pharmacology) and supervision of research students. Eighteen students have completed higher research degrees in our group since 1996.

MEDSCI 723 - Cancer Pharmacology

Collaborations and funding

Our students, research laboratories and non-clinical staff are based in the Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology. Our clinical team is based in the Discipline of Oncology and its work involves patients, facilities and staff at the Department of Oncology at Auckland City Hospital. We have close links with the ported by commercial collaborations with Antisoma, Proacta and Novartis, and by grant funding from the Cancer Society of New Zealand.