Professor Peter Shepherd

BSc(Hons) Massey , PhD Massey


After graduating from Massey University I undertook post doctoral research at Harvard Medical School and the University of Cambridge before gaining a tenured position at University College London.  I moved back to New Zealand from University College London in 2004 and my research continues to be in the broad area of signal transduction with a particular focus on type-2 diabetes and cancer. The lab encourages a collaborative approach with research groups across New Zealand and overseas to make the most of our research programmes.  The main research current areas are (i) identifying new combinations of old drugs targeting signal transduction pathways to get improved efficacy in treating cancer, (ii) developing new drugs targeting CSF1R to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies for cancer (iii) investigating the role of ß-catenin in mechanisms controlling the secretion of insulin from ß-cells and (iv) understanding how genetic factors contribute to the increased risk of metabolic diseases in Māori and Pacific peoples. 

The lab also has a strong focus on scientific outreach. One avenue for this is understanding how we can link our research with high schools to make our research have impact on science education in this country.  The research part of this is the "Sugar in Schools" study which is a study where students and teachers do the experiment themsleves using a hydrogen breathalyser to assess levels of fructose intolerance in new Zealand school children. This is designed to prvde a real world investigation that kids can do on themsleves and that will engage them with science an health literacy. This is linked to educational material about sugar and metabolic diseases that fits with the  NZ NCEA curriculim.  Another important area of outreach has been in development of research collaborations and partnerships with Māori communities.

Translational research is also an important focus and Pathway Therapeutics and Symansis are two companies that have spun out from the lab and clnical trials are in development in the cancer and diabetes spaces.


Lab affiliations

Research | Current

Research groups

Research interests

Drug Discovery
The lab has been directly involved in several drug discovery programmes in collaboration with the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC). These resulted in the devlopment of the PI 3-kinase inhibitor PWT33597 and its advancement to phase-1 clnical trial as an anticancer agent. Several PI 3-kinase drug discovery  projects are ongoing aimed at developing second generation inhibitors, including one in collaboration with the Chinese National Centre for Drug Screening. We are also involved in drug development pogramme develping inhibitors of CSF1 receptor as a strategy to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies.  This work also involves collaboration with  researchers at  the Malaghan Institute and is funded by the Health Research Council and the Maurice Wilkins Centre.

Cancer Biology
In recent years we have genotyped and functionally characterised a panel of 102 primary melanoma cell lines and 30+ primary glioblastoma cell lines developed at Uinversity of Auckland at the ACSRC. The aim is to understand the links between genotype, cell signalling pathway activation and the response to drugs so as to be able to identify new mechanisms that predict drug resistance and to be able to test novel drug combinations in vitro against a wide range of genotype combinations. Signalling mechanisms investigated in depth include the PI 3-kinase pathway, the VEGF pathway, growth factor receptors, factors affecting response to MEK and BRAF inhibitors, the role of cannabinoid receptors, the role of growth hormone receptors and also the mechanisms by which statins impact on melanoma. This work has identified a novel combination of drugs with high efficacy in preclnical studies and we are now moving to develop a human clnical trial with the Auckland Hospital Phase-1 clnical trials centre. The work is funded by the Health Research Council of NZ project grants, the Cancer Society and the Gut Cancer Foundation.  It involves collaborations with UoA researchers Prof Bruce Baguley, Dr Francis Hunterr, Dr Jo Perry and Prof Cris Print.  Phd students associated with this work are Vahid Seyfodin, Khanh Tran and Karla Sousa.

Mechanisms regulating hormone secretion
We have identified a crucial role for beta-catenin in the regulation of insulin and neuropeptide hormone secretion.  Work stemming from this has shown levels of beta-catenin are regulated by nutrient levels indicating that this is a novel mechanisms by which nutrients can modulate the level of hormone secretion in some cells. As part of this work we are using human induced pluripotent stem cells to develop human beta-cell models with specific SNPs known to affect both insulin secretion and beta-catenin function.  This work involves collaborations with Prof Dave Grattan at Otago University, A/Prof Alan Davidson and Dr Tersea Holm at UoA and in Sydney with Dr Greg Smith at UNSW and Dr Will Hughes at the Garvan Institute. Posdoctoral Fellows Dr Kate Lee and Dr Waruni Dissanyake and PhD student Jake Oh are associated with this project. The work is funded by the Maurice Wilkins Centre and previously by the Health Research Council.

Genetic factors affecting metabolic disease risk
This project involves deep phenotyping studies combined with analysis of gene variants to understand how genetic factors might contribute to the increased risk of developing metabolic diseases in Maori and Pacific peoples and to use this information to develop better prevention or treatment strategies. It involves collaborations with the Moko Foundation (Waharoa ki te Toi Research Centre in Kaitaia) and Ngati Porou Hauora (Te Rangawairua o Paratene Ngata Research Centre in Te Puia Springs) as well as Prof Tony Merriman and Dave Grattan in Otago and A/Prof Rinki Murphy and Troy Merry in Auckland. Kate Lee is also assisting on this project and Shalinda Fernando, Sanaz Vakili and Hannah Burden are PhD students on this project. The work is funded by and HRC programme grant and by the Maurice Wilkins Centre.

Teaching | Current

Medsci 312

Medsci 732


Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand

Callaghan Medal of Royal Society of NZ

Adjunct Professor, Fudan University, Shanghai

CLNZ NZ Educational Book award for High School Biology Level 2 NCEA text book co-authored with Rachel Heeney

Areas of expertise

Role of cell signalling pathways

Drug discovery


Diabetes and Obesity

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Convenor of Queenstown Research Week

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.

Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 504 - Bldg 504
Level 2, Room 206
New Zealand