Dr Moana Tercel

BSc, MSc, PhD


Moana Tercel obtained her BSc (1985) and MSc (1986) degrees in organic chemistry from the University of Auckland and her PhD (1989) from the University of Cambridge, working with Dr Ian Fleming on the total synthesis of the alkaloid gelsemine. She spent 2 years at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, firstly holding a Max Planck Research Fellowship, then an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. In 1992 she joined the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre and is currently a Senior Research Fellow in that department. Her primary interests centre on investigating bioreductive drugs that target the hypoxic tumour microenvironment, with a particular focus on cyclopropylindolines that are derived from the duocarmycin class of natural products. She was Principal Investigator on a major New Economy Research Fund contract (2007-2011), a senior named investigator on a Health Research Council Project (2011-2014), and is currently a joint Principal Investigator on an HRC Programme (2014-2019). She has also been an Associate Investigator of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery since its inception in 2002.


Research | Current

  • The design, synthesis, and properties of hypoxia-selective prodrugs for use as anticancer agents
  • DNA alkylating agents, in particular minor groove alkylating agents (cyclopropylindolines, pyrrolobenzodiazepines)
  • New nitroimidazoles for the detection of hypoxic cells
  • Design of potent cytotoxins for arming antibody-drug conjugates

Postgraduate supervision

Co-supervisor of Lin Hou (PhD candidate, 'Novel click chemistry probes to target hypoxic tumour cells and characterise their gene expression')

Areas of expertise

Medicinal chemistry, organic synthesis, anticancer drug development, drug design, tumour hypoxia.

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Tercel, M., Lee, H. H., Mehta, S. Y., Youte Tendoung, J.-J., Bai, S. Y., Liyanage, H. S., & Pruijn, F. B. (2017). Influence of a basic side chain on the properties of hypoxia-selective nitro analogues of the duocarmycins: Demonstration of substantial anticancer activity in combination with irradiation or chemotherapy. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 60 (13), 5834-5856. 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.7b00563
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ho Lee, Frederik Pruijn
  • Giddens, A. C., Lee, H. H., Lu, G.-L., Miller, C. K., Guo, J., Lewis Phillips, G. D., ... Tercel, M. (2016). Analogues of DNA minor groove cross-linking agents incorporating aminoCBI, an amino derivative of the duocarmycins: Synthesis, cytotoxicity, and potential as payloads for antibody-drug conjugates. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, 24 (22), 6075-6081. 10.1016/j.bmc.2016.09.068
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Leon Lu, Ho Lee, Christian Miller, Anna Giddens
  • Tercel, M., Pruijn, F. B., O'Connor PD, Liyanage, H. S., Atwell, G. J., & Alix, S. M. (2014). Mechanism of action of AminoCBIs: Highly reactive but highly cytotoxic analogues of the duocarmycins. ChemBioChem, 15 (13), 1998-2006. 10.1002/cbic.201402256
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Frederik Pruijn
  • Tercel, M., McManaway, S. P., Liyanage, H. S., & Pruijn, F. B. (2014). Preparation and properties of clickable amino analogues of the duocarmycins: Factors that affect the efficiency of their fluorescent labelling of DNA. ChemMedChem, 9 (9), 2193-2206. 10.1002/cmdc.201402169
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Frederik Pruijn
  • Tercel, M., McManaway, S. P., Leung, E., Liyanage, H. D. S., Lu, G. L., & Pruijn, F. B. (2013). The cytotoxicity of duocarmycin analogues is mediated through alkylation of DNA, not aldehyde dehydrogenase 1: A comment. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 52 (21), 5442-5446. 10.1002/anie.201208373
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Frederik Pruijn, Sarah McManaway, Euphemia Leung, Leon Lu
  • Tercel, M., Lee, H. H., Yang, S., Liyanage, H. D., Mehta, S. Y., Boyd, P. D., ... Pruijn, F. B. (2011). Preparation and antitumour properties of the enantiomers of a hypoxia-selective nitro analogue of the duocarmycins. ChemMedChem, 6 (10), 1860-1871. 10.1002/cmdc.201100271
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/15406
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Frederik Pruijn, Ho Lee, Jagdish Jaiswal
  • Tercel, M., Atwell, G. J., Yang, S., Ashoorzadeh, A., Stevenson, R. J., Botting, K. J., ... Wilson, W. R. (2011). Selective treatment of hypoxic tumor cells in vivo: phosphate pre-prodrugs of nitro analogues of the duocarmycins. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl, 50 (11), 2606-2609. 10.1002/anie.201004456
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/12529
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: William Wilson, Bill Denny, Frederik Pruijn, Ralph Stevenson, Amir Ashoorzadeh, Yongchuan Gu
  • Pruijn, F. B., & Tercel, M.. Agents and Methods for Detection and/or Imaging of Hypoxia. WO 2011/145957 A1

Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 504 - Bldg 504
Level 1, Room 126
New Zealand