Professor Sue Fletcher leads the Molecular Therapies Laboratory with Professor Steve Wilton, and is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Innovative Therapeutics at Murdoch University.
Professor Fletcher was born in Zimbabwe and obtained a BSc in Zoology and Chemistry (1976). She worked in Zimbabwe, firstly as a research assistant at the University of Zimbabwe, and then as a forensic scientist, before completing a PhD in Physiology (1988) at the University of Western Australia. She returned to a post-doctoral position in the Department of Physiology at the University of Western Australia in 1989 and then moved to the Perron Institute (previously the Australian Neuromuscular Research Institute) in 1991.
Professor Fletcher’s research at the Perron Institute and the UWA Centre for Neuromuscular and Neurological Disorders was as a molecular biologist, studying muscle regeneration and developing therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Professor Fletcher began working with Professor Steve Wilton in 1995, a partnership that continues to the present day.
Together, Professors Fletcher and Wilton have pioneered the development of a radically new therapy for the devastating childhood disorder, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. A drug developed in the Perron Institute’s Perth laboratories is the subject of a clinical trial in the United States, which continues to produce highly positive outcomes.
In the late 1990s, in collaboration with Professor Wilton, Professor Fletcher’s research increasingly focused on therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This research led to the patenting of novel therapies for Duchenne based on the use of antisense oligonucleotides and to an emerging partnership with the U.S. biotechnology company, Sarepta Therapeutics, licensed through The University of Western Australia, to develop a suite of compounds addressing other genetic and acquired diseases.
On 19th September, 2016, the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave accelerated approval to this compound, now called eteplirsen (Exondys 51). This is the first dystrophin restoring drug of its type ever approved by the FDA.
In December 2019, the FDA granted golodirsen (Vyondys-53) accelerated approval, to treat another subset of Duchenne patients.
In February 2021, the third FDA accelerated approval was granted for casimersen (Amondys 45). The three drugs developed by Professors Fletcher and Wilton and their team can treat almost thirty per cent of patients diagnosed with Duchenne.
Current research explores the use of similar drug strategies in other diseases, including spinal muscular atrophy, cystic fibrosis and Pompe’s disease to name a few.
The translational impact of Professor Fletcher and Wilton’s research on Duchenne has been acknowledged through several awards, including the 2012 WA Innovator of the Year Award, the 2013 Eureka Prize for Medical Research Translation and the 2014 Labgear Australia Discovery Science Award.
Together, Professors Fletcher and Wilton have also attracted significant research funding, including several NHMRC grants, two grants from the National Institutes of Health (USA) and published numerous papers.