First-ever New Zealand woman elected Fellow of Royal Society

In a career of exceptional scientific achievement, Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble of the University of Auckland has achieved yet another first - as the only New Zealand-based woman ever elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble

In a career of exceptional achievement, Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble of the University of Auckland has achieved yet another first - as the only New Zealand-based woman scientist elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Only 42 New Zealanders - up to now all men - have ever been elected to its ranks. They include New Zealand science pioneers Sir Ernest Rutherford and Sir Paul Callaghan.

Founded in the early 1600s, the Royal Society is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The late Stephen Hawking was a Fellow as were Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

“I offer Professor Brimble my warmest congratulations on being elected to what many would regard as the most prestigious science institution in the world,” says University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon.

“This Fellowship really is an honour and a milestone not just for women scientists in New Zealand but for our science sector in general. To have one of our leading scientists recognised in this way is a wonderful achievement.”

Professor Brimble has also been awarded the 2018 George & Christine Sosnovsky Award in Cancer Therapy from the UK Royal Society of Chemistry for developing a novel innovative chemistry platform for the development of cancer vaccines.

Professor Brimble was born and raised in Auckland, attended the University of Auckland and has done almost all her research in New Zealand. As a young woman she was encouraged to consider a career in medicine but the horror of being asked to dissect a rat in biology class steered her towards science research.

Her work sits at the interface of chemistry and medicine and focuses on developing bioactive compounds from natural products such as marine algae or fungi. These compounds are synthesised in larger amounts for further research and development as potential drugs to treat a range of diseases including cancer and infectious disease. Developing these compounds can take several years.

Professor Brimble’s research in drug discovery in New Zealand is pioneering, developing a new treatment for Rett Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome and autism disorders. The drug, called Trofinetide, is in phase III human clinical trials with Neuren Pharmaceuticals. It will be the first drug to be developed successfully by a New Zealand company and one of only a few to be discovered in an academic laboratory.

Her research group is also developing innovative chemical technology to generate cancer vaccines. This work is being translated for clinical use by the spin-out company SapVax who are developing a pipeline of products for the treatment of different cancers.

Professor Brimble holds the Chair of Organic Chemistry and is Director of Medicinal Chemistry in the School of Chemical Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences. She is a Principal Investigator in the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery and past-Chair of the NZ Royal Society Te Apārangi Rutherford Foundation.

A Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Science (CNZM), she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry UK, the NZ Royal Society Te Apārangi, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry.

She is a recipient of the 2016 Marsden Medal, the 2012 RSNZ Rutherford Medal (NZ’s top science prize) and the MacDiarmid and Hector Medals. She was named the 2007 L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science laureate in materials science for Asia Pacific and received the 2014 Westpac Trust Women in Influence Award for Science and Technology.

Professor Brimble is a passionate advocate for women in science and regularly speaks to groups of young women to encourage them to consider science as a career.

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