Primary research interest

Organic Chemistry - Glycoscience, drug discovery and biotechnology

Additional roles

  • Co-Deputy Director, Biotechnology Program
  • Director, Doctor of Biotechnology Program

About me

After completing my undergraduate and PhD studies at the University of WA I held postdoctoral fellowships at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Denmark (1992-94) and then at the University of British Columbia in Canada (1994-96). I then returned to Australia and spent 12 years in the biotechnology industry with Progen Pharmaceuticals Ltd where I held various positions including Director of Drug Discovery. In 2008 I moved to QUT as a Principal Research Fellow and Deputy Program Leader in the CRC for Polymers before joining The University of Queensland in 2010.

Research focus and collaborations

My research interests are in carbohydrate chemistry and medicinal chemistry, with a focus on the synthesis of compounds to probe and/or inhibit carbohydrate-protein interactions involved in disease processes. Of particular interest is heparan sulfate (HS) and the development of HS mimetics as potential drugs for cancer and other diseases. Previous work in this area resulted in the discovery of PG545, a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis and metastasis that is currently in Phase I clinical trials in cancer patients. Current research interests and collaborations include: the development of artificial anticoagulants as replacements for heparin and LMWH (collaboration with scientists at CSIRO & the University of Melbourne), HS mimetics as antiviral agents (AID, Griffith University) and pharmacological chaperone therapy for lysosomal storage diseases (SAHMRI, Adelaide).

Projects

  • Synthetic heparin/HS mimetics
  • Pharmacological chaperone therapy for lysosomal storage diseases
  • Synthesis of inhibitors of virus-cell attachment
  • Synthesis of heparanase inhibitors with improved specificity

Collaborators

  • Dr John Tsanaksidis (CSIRO)
  • Prof Paul Monagle & Dr Vera Ignjatovic (University of Melbourne/MCRI)
  • A/Prof Jennifer Wilson (Griffith University Gold Coast)
  • A/Prof Albert Mellick (UNSW)
  • Drs Adeline Lau, Marten Snel, Paul Trim, Kim Hemsley (SAHMRI)
  • Prof Murray Baker (University of WA)
  • Dr Lara Herrero (Griffith University Gold Coast)
  • Dr Neha Gandhi (QUT)
  • Prof Israel Vlodavsky (Technion, Israel)
  • Prof Gideon Davies (University of York, UK)
  • A/Prof Simon Glerup Pedersen (University of Aarhus, Denmark)

Funded projects

  • Expression, purification and characterization of recombinant human heparanase. UQ New Staff Research Start-Up Fund.
  • Synthesis of novel inhibitors of heparan sulfate-degrading enzymes as potential anticancer therapeutics. UQ Early Career Researcher Grant.
  • Small molecule chaperones for enzyme enhancement therapy for MPS II. National MPS Society Research Grant 2011.
  • Targeting Tumour Angiogenesis in Breast Cancer by Altering MicroRNA Signalling. NHMRC Project Grant 2013-15.
  • Development of Pharmacological Chaperone Therapy for MPS II. National MPS Society Research Grant 2013.
  • Improving Anticancer Activity of Gold Compounds. UWA-UQ Partnership Research Collaboration Award 2015.
  • Heparan sulfate mimetics: versatile tools for chemical biology. ARC Discovery Grant 2017-19.
  • Pharmacological chaperones for MPS IIIA. Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation Incubator Grant  2018.
  • Towards a treatment for Sanfilippo syndrome. UQ SWIF Grant 2018-19.

Teaching interests

  • CHEM1200 - Chemistry 2
  • CHEM2052 - Chemical Biology
  • BIOT3007 - Biotechnology Industry Placements/Internship Program
  • SCIE3260/1 - Introduction to Research in Chemistry, Biochem & Microbiology
  • BIOT3009 - Quality Management Systems in Biotechnology: GMP, GLP, GCP
  • BIOT7031 - Quality Management Systems in Biotechnology

Achievements and awards

  • Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute
  • Member of the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre
  • Member of the Australian and New Zealand Glycosciences Group
  • Member of the American Chemical Society
  • Member of the School’s Industry Advisory Board
  • Member of the Sanofi-Aventis Low Molecular Heparin Biosimilars Working Group
  • Editorial Advisory Board Member: Current Medicinal Chemistry; Molecules; Cardiovascular & Hematological Agents in Medicinal Chemistry
  • Scientific Advisory Board Member: Glycan Biosciences; Nanollose
  • 2014 SCMB Award for Outstanding Contributions to Engagement

Featured publications

Researcher biography

Carbohydrate chemistry, medicinal chemistry, drug discovery

Vito Ferro is an Associate Professor in the School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences, a Deputy Director of the Biotechnology Program, and Director of the professional doctorate in biotechnology (DBiotech). His research interests are in the area of synthetic carbohydrate chemistry and drug design and development.