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    Minister for Tourism, Regional Development and Industry
    The Honourable Desley Boyle

    Queensland Government funding targets malaria and African sleeping sickness

    Minister for Tourism, Regional Development and Industry
    The Honourable Desley Boyle

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Queensland Government funding targets malaria and African sleeping sickness

    Queensland researchers are working on new drugs to treat Malaria which kills up to two million people annually, mainly children under five and pregnant women. It’s believed a child dies every 30 seconds from malaria

    Regional Development and Industry Minister Desley Boyle said: “It’s not impossible to think that If climate change continues malaria could reach Queensland. It already occurs in Papua New Guinea.

    “The Queensland Government is providing $1.8 million to a project using Queensland’s exotic wildlife to find cures for malaria and African sleeping sickness.

    “This exciting research is occurring at Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies.

    “The grant will help the Institute develop new drugs from nature to combat these tropical diseases which are becoming increasingly resistant to existing treatments.

    “Malaria occurs in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Europe.

    “African sleeping sickness occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and is transmitted to humans via the tsetse fly. It kills about 60,000 people every year. Current drug therapies can be highly toxic, difficult to administer and unaffordable for most sufferers,” Ms Boyle said.

    The Eskitis Institute screens tropical plants and marine animals in the search for new drugs.

    Since 1993, the Institute has built a collection of over 300,000 natural compounds from plants and marine invertebrates from tropical Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea and China.

    “The Eskitis Natural Products Library could well hold the key to some of the worst diseases blighting human kind,” Ms Boyle said.

    “Malaria and sleeping sickness are caused by parasites. Research involves growing the parasite in separate containers, then adding compounds from the library to see if any kill the parasite.

    “Sleeping sickness was just screened against the 25,000 compounds from the marine part of the library. About 50 initial hits look promising.

    “But knowing that a compound kills a disease is only half the battle. Researchers need to know how it kills the disease. That makes it easier to work out if the compound can be mass produced synthetically and if it will fight disease with no harmful side effects.

    “The Queensland Government grant, from the Innovation Projects Fund, will help researchers determine how different compounds kill various diseases,” Ms Boyle said.

    Eskitis recently shared in $2.2m in funding from the US Government National Institutes for Health for a five-year collaboration with the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, University of North Carolina and University of California, San Francisco to battle African sleeping sickness and other parasitic diseases.

    Professor Ron Quinn, Director of the Eskitis Institute said: “There is great potential within the massive chemical and biological diversity of nature for sources of medicines to be found and we could well have the cures for these diseases in our own backyard – our job really is to find them,” Professor Quinn said.

    “And this is where the Eskitis Natural Products Library comes into the picture. Not only have we got an extensive library of natural products, but we have Australia’s best equipped high-throughput screening (HTS) facility, so we can be extremely comprehensive in our search for new drug discoveries,” Professor Quinn said.

    He said naturally-occurring biological products are still the main medicines used by 80 per cent of the world's population.

    "Many of the world’s leading drugs are natural product derived. The cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin is derived from a fungus. And the breast cancer drug paclitaxel is derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree.

    “Often a combination of herbs or foods has been used for centuries in folk medicine and is known to be effective, but the actual therapeutic ingredient is unknown.

    “Our goal is to identify and isolate exactly what the active ingredient in these natural products are, and if possible synthesise them to create better drugs.”

    Professor Quinn said partners in the project included the renowned Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) in Washington State, the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.

    Ms Boyle said last year the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Washington State to explore joint opportunities for collaborations and partnerships between academic, research, commercial and government entities.

    “And this is a further example of the strengthening ties between the biotechnology communities in Washington State and Queensland and a direct result of the Government's proactive approach in developing key international alliances for our biotech sector,” Ms Boyle said.

    The Innovation Projects Fund is part of the Queensland Government’s $300 million Smart State Innovation Funds Program, which aims to build world-class research facilities, attract top-quality scientists to Queensland and stimulate cutting-edge research projects.

    “The Queensland Government has invested more than $3 billion in innovation, science and research since 1998. I think this demonstrates our deep and ongoing commitment to building Queensland’s reputation as the Smart State,” Ms Boyle said.

    Queensland is currently hosting the 2007 AusBiotech National Conference at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre from 21-24 October – for more details visit AusBiotech on

    AusBiotech is the industry body representing the Australian biotechnology sector.

    Contact details for Professor Quinn: Eskitis Institute of Cell & Molecular Therapies, Griffith University, tel 3735 6000, email:


    Media contact: 3224 2004
    22 October 2007