Professor Brent Raymond Copp

BSc(Hons-I), PhD (Canterbury)


  • PhD. University of Canterbury (1989, with Murray Munro and John Blunt)
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Cornell University (1990, with Jon Clardy)
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Utah (1990-1992, with Chris Ireland)
  • Xenova Ltd, England (1992-1993)
  • Visiting Research Associate Professor, University of Utah, July 1997-February 1998
  • Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, The University of Auckland, 1993-1998
  • Senior Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, The University of Auckland, 1999-2005.
  • Associate Professor, School of Chemical Sciences, The University of Auckland, 2006-2017.
  • Professor, School of Chemical Sciences, The University of Auckland, 2018-

Research | Current

The Natural Products Research Group investigates New Zealand marine organisms as sources of new compounds with potential applications against human diseases including cancer, inflammation and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. While bio-assay directed fractionation leads to the isolation of the biologically active constituents of an organism, we are also interested in the intellectual challenge of solving the structures of new natural products whether they exhibit biological activity or not. Exploitation of bioactive natural products requires access to comprehensive bioassays, for which we have collaborations with leading medical research groups targeting anti-inflammatory, antitumour, antitubercular and antimalarial agents.

In addition to natural products chemistry, the group also has a strong interest in the discovery and development of new classes of antituberculosis and antimalarial agents. These projects combine both aspects of natural product drug discovery as well as rational design and synthesis of new compounds.

Current projects

  • Natural products drug discovery
    Marine natural products, the secondary or non-primary metabolites produced by organisms that live in the sea, are of interest to us for two main reasons: as a source of new and unsual organic molecules and as a source of biologically active molecules that can act as templates for the development of new therapeutic agents. We target the isolation of natural products that have activity towards human cancer cell lines, neglected disease targets and bacteria/fungi. Bioassay guided fractionation allows the isolation of the biologically active natural products, while the challenge of their structure solution is typically achieved by extensive use of 2-dimensional NMR spectroscopy (including 1H-15N 2-D NMR data sets) and mass spectrometry.
  • Exploiting the potential of bioactive natural products
    Our pure compound screening projects have identified a number of New Zealand marine organism-sourced natural products that exhibit activity towards drug-resistant strains of bacteria and can potentiate the action of antibiotics towards these bacteria. In order to exploit these findings, we are preparing small libraries of molecules designed around our natural products. These libraries are then screened for biological activity with our collaborators leading to the identified of new analogues with enhanced activity. Several projects are available in this area.
  • Natural products as biological tools
    Whilst it is possible to isolate potently bioactive natural products, very few of these compounds will ever be of use as pharmaceuticals themselves due to undesirable pharmacokinetic or toxicity problems. Such natural products can still be of tremendous to help understand biological processes, acting as probes or tools for biological chemical studies. This project is currently focused on two families of cytotoxic marine alkaloids, the discorhabdins and the amphimedines. We aim to prepare fluorescently-tagged analogues, to allow cellular localisation studies to be performed, and biotinylated analogues to facilitate 'pull-down' affinity chromatography experiments.

Research group members

  • Dr A. Norrie Pearce: Research Fellow.
  • Dr Melissa Cadelis: Research Fellow.
  • Steven Li: PhD studies.
  • Kenneth Sue: PhD studies.
  • Liam Edmeades: PhD studies.
  • Dan Chen: MSc studies.
  • Evie Gill: BSc(Hons) studies.
  • Daniel Park: BSc(Hons) studies.

Postgraduate supervision

The list of research topics above is not exclusive - please see me if you have interests in these fields.

Areas of expertise

  • Organic & Medicinal Chemistry

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Mayer, A., Barker, D., Copp, B. R., & Miskelly, G. M. (2020). The HONO-methamphetamine adduct – An unexpected derivative. Forensic Chemistry, 20.10.1016/j.forc.2020.100276
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Gordon Miskelly, David Barker
  • Lam, C. F. C., Cadelis, M. M., & Copp, B. R. (2020). Exploration of the Electrophilic Reactivity of the Cytotoxic Marine Alkaloid Discorhabdin C and Subsequent Discovery of a New Dimeric C-1/N-13-Linked Discorhabdin Natural Product. Marine drugs, 18 (8).10.3390/md18080404
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Melissa Cadelis
  • Barker, D., Lee, S., Varnava, K. G., Sparrow, K., van Rensburg, M., Deed, R. C., ... Sarojini, V. (2020). Synthesis and Antibacterial Analysis of Analogues of the Marine Alkaloid Pseudoceratidine. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25 (11).10.3390/molecules25112713
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: David Barker, Lisa Pilkington, Melissa Cadelis, Steven Li, Rebecca Deed, Kyriakos Varnava
  • Mayer, A., Copp, B., Bogun, B., & Miskelly, G. (2020). Identification and characterization of chemically masked derivatives of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. Drug testing and analysis, 12 (4), 524-537. 10.1002/dta.2764
  • Carroll, A. R., Copp, B. R., Davis, R. A., Keyzers, R. A., & Prinsep, M. R. (2020). Marine natural products. Natural product reports, 37 (2), 175-223. 10.1039/c9np00069k
  • Cadelis, M. M., Pike, E. I. W., Kang, W., Wu, Z., Bourguet-Kondracki, M.-L., Blanchet, M., ... Copp, B. R. (2019). Exploration of the antibiotic potentiating activity of indolglyoxylpolyamines. European journal of medicinal chemistry, 18310.1016/j.ejmech.2019.111708
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Melissa Cadelis, Zimei Wu
  • Kellner Filho, L. C., Picão BW, Silva, M. L. A., Cunha, W. R., Pauletti, P. M., Dias, G. M., ... Januario, A. H. (2019). Bioactive Aliphatic Sulfates from Marine Invertebrates. Marine drugs, 17 (9).10.3390/md17090527
  • Pearce, A. N., Hill, C. A. E., Page, M. J., Keyzers, R. A., & Copp, B. R. (2019). An Acetylenic Lipid from the New Zealand Ascidian Pseudodistoma cereum: Exemplification of an Improved Workflow for Determination of Absolute Configuration of Long-Chain 2-Amino-3-alkanols. Journal of natural products, 82 (8), 2291-2298. 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.9b00504
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Norrie Pearce


Contact details

Primary office location

Level 6, Room 629A
New Zealand

Web links