MARGARET BRIMBLE
1961
Chemist

Ground-breaking chemist and champion of women in science

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble makes a point of encouraging her students to think big.

Throughout an incredible career - which just culminated in her becoming the first New Zealand woman ever appointed a fellow of the world's oldest and most prestigious scientific academy - they are words the chemist has lived by herself.

Few New Zealand scientists have ever signed the Royal Society of London's hallowed book, which bears the names of greats like Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, whom Brimble once grew up reading about.

Reaching those heights, she told the Herald this year, was a win for New Zealand, where she has spent her career, and a win for a women in science, a cause she has long championed.

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This year also brought her the UK Royal Society of Chemistry's 2018 George and Christine Sosnovsky Award in Cancer Therapy, for developing an innovative chemistry platform for the development of cancer vaccines.

Brimble's work focuses on developing bioactive compounds from natural products such as marine algae.

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.

Her 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 developed successfully by a New Zealand company and one of few to be discovered in an academic laboratory.

Her research group is also developing innovative chemical technology to generate cancer vaccines.

But Brimble, 57, gained just as much satisfaction from her academic work as what she described as her "day-to-day job" - working with post-graduate students.

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"They are the reason I come to work each day," she earlier told the Herald.