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Professor Christopher Scarlett

Professor Christopher Scarlett
Research Program:
Project Grant
2016 Project Grant
Project Grant
2014 Project Grant

What are your research interests?

  • To develop novel drugs for pancreatic cancer patients whose cancer does not respond to current therapies.
  • To identify molecular mechanisms that will show the way to new therapies for types of cancers that don’t respond to conventional treatments, ultimately leading to better outcomes for patients.

Why did you get into research? 

Like many of my peers, I was inspired to pursue a career in pancreatic cancer research by my mentors. My former supervisors, at Royal North Shore Hospital (Professor R Smith) and subsequently the Garvan Institute (Professor A Biankin), had made the study of pancreatic cancer their vocation. This, and witnessing the “human face” of the disease, through friends, family and my career, instilled in me a sense of urgency and a yearning to make a difference.

Knowing that what we do has the potential to better somebody’s life gets me out of bed each morning, and I believe that in cancer research you can make real progress when you don’t lose sight of the big picture.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

My end goal is to be a part of the global research movement to improve outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer. 


Since his appointment to the University of Newcastle Central Coast Campus in 2012, Professor Scarlett has commissioned a unique facility in Australia identifying novel anti-pancreatic cancer (PC) therapeutic agents, derived synthetically and from natural products, as part of a PC translational treatment pipeline.

Through his links with the Kinghorn Cancer Centre, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, HMRI, The Lowy Cancer Research Centre and the University of Newcastle, Professor Scarlett created a dedicated centre for the development of novel therapeutic agents based on a rationally designed strategy targeting phenotypes of PC that are non-responsive to conventional therapies. This has the potential to have a profound impact not only on future PC treatments, but to serve as a model for developing new therapeutic interventions in other cancers.

In building this research program, and with the assistance of a Ramaciotti Foundation Establishment Grant and University of Newcastle (UoN) seed funding, Professor Scarlett established and continues to lead the Pancreatic Cancer Research Group (PCRG). This positioned a critical mass of researchers with interests in pancreatic cancer, not seen before at UoN, with complementary skill sets in cancer biology, medicinal chemistry, synthetic chemistry, and natural product chemistry within his laboratory. This group is aligned with other key research teams locally and internationally and has ready access to key infrastructure (natural product/medicinal chemistry, cancer biology, pre-clinical models of PC) to develop a PC translational treatment pipeline. 

Professor Scarlett has forged productive national and international collaborations to ensure that the research output generated internally is extended significantly and that these studies are disseminated in international top-tier publications.

Internationally the team’s partners involved in natural product drug discovery include the National Institute of Medicinal Material (NIMM) Hanoi, Nha Trang University, and the Hanoi University of Agriculture (HUA), providing us with compounds to assess in vitro models of PC; as well as collaborative ties with The University of Glasgow Translational Research Centre and the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health.

He has been awarded project grant funding through the Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme, co-funded by Cancer Australia and the Cure Cancer Australia Foundation (CIA; 2012-1013). He is also a Co-Investigator on a successful NHMRC program grant ($11,128,320; 2009-2013), and a Co-Chief Investigator on successful project grants through the NHMRC (CI-B; 2011-2013) and The Cancer Council NSW (CI-C; 2010-2012) in collaboration with Dr Tao Liu at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia.

Specialised/Technical Skills 

  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Drug discovery
  • In vivo models of pancreatic cancer
  • Natural products 
  • Biomarkers of prognosis
  • Bioactive compounds


  • Hunter Cancer Research Alliance (HCRA)
  • PRC Cancer
  • PRC Chemical Biology
  • Australasian Pancreatic Club
  • ARC ITTC Food and Supply Chain Chain Management


Cancer secretory molecules as a novel diagnostic biomarker for pancreatic cancer.
Project Grant

Metastatic pancreatic cancer has a low survival rate and even with the best existing therapies the survival is less than a year. Despite advances in treatments and outcomes for other cancers, this has not happened for pancreatic cancer with no advances in mortality reduction observed over the past decade. This grim outlook drives our research, which focuses on developing novel diagnostic strategies for pancreatic cancer.



Identification and evaluation of anti-pancreatic cancer activity of cytotoxic compounds extracted from Australian sea sponges: a pilot study
Project Grant

Dr Christopher Scarlett, Dr Quan Vuong, Dr Judith Weidenhofer, Dr Rick Thorne, Assosciate Professor Michael Bowyer, Dr Trou Gaston


Pancreatic Cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer related death in the western world and there is an urgent need to develop new therapeutic strategies.