Dr Steven Ogbourne

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Dr Steven Ogbourne


Research areas

  • biodiscovery
  • drug development
  • plant natural product drug manufacture
  • population genetics
  • plant reproductive biology


Dr Steven Ogbourne is an experienced research scientist with a background in plant science, molecular biology and chemistry. Biodiscovery is his current research focus following his move into the field of drug discovery as a post-doctoral researcher at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) and into drug development and commercialisation with the Brisbane based biotechnology company, Peplin.

Dr Ogbourne’s research at QIMR resulted in the identification of a small molecule terpenoid, PEP005 (ingenol mebutate), which showed significant anti-cancer activity. He was then intimately involved in all aspects of the development and commercialisation of ingenol mebutate at Peplin. Peplin was eventually sold to the European dermatology giant LEO Pharma, with whom Dr Ogbourne worked for two years as Senior Director, Research & Development. Ingenol mebutate has now been approved for use as a topical treatment for actinic keratosis in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Since starting with USC, Dr Ogbourne has participated in several biodiscovery projects in collaboration with other members of the University’s GeneCology Research Centre as well as with the Australian biotechnology company EcoBiotics. These projects span a range of research areas including plant and animal derived natural products that possess anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, wound-healing and/or cosmetic activity for both pharmaceutical and neutraceutical applications.

One of Dr Ogbourne’s most significant current projects focuses on the manufacture of a novel anti-cancer drug (EBC-46) discovered by EcoBiotics. EBC-46 is extracted and purified from Fontainea picrosperma, a native tropical rainforest plant found in Far North Queensland. Dr Ogbourne’s research will assist EcoBiotics with domesticating the species; an important milestone for EcoBiotics that will facilitate secure supply of raw material for the manufacture of EBC-46.

The genus Fontainea, which comprises nine species worldwide, is of significant conservation interest. Five species are found in Queensland, four of which are recognised as threatened under various conservation Acts. Dr Ogbourne's research into this genus, which includes population mapping, population genetics, breeding systems and propagation will provide substantial conservation outcomes and will also add to our scientific understanding of the biology and ecology of similar rainforest species

Research projects

Investigator(s)TitleYear CompletedFunding Body

Conroy G, Ogbourne S.

A Dingo Scat DNA-Mark-Recapture Monitoring Program to Calculate Population Size


Dept. of Science, Information Technology and Innovation

Ogbourne S, Trueman S, Conroy G.

Conservation of Fontainea rostrata (Euphorbiaceae) in the Tinana Creek Catchment


Burnett Mary Regional Group Pty Ltd

Conroy G, Ogbourne S, Lamont R, Belcher R

A genetic analysis of Fraser Island dingoes (Canis lupus dingo)


Queensland Government Biodiversity Partnership

Ogbourne SM, Wallace H, Brooks P, Russell F, Katouli, M

Medicinally active compounds from stingless bee propolis


University of the Sunshine Coast

Ogbourne SM, Wallace H, Trueman S

Domestication of Fontainea picrosperma


EcoBiotics Ltd

Ogbourne SM, Wallace H, Trueman S

Domestication of Fontainea picrosperma


EcoBiotics Ltd

Ogbourne SM, Parsons PG

Industry Research Fellow – Commercial Development of a Skin Cancer Treatment


National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)

Highlighted publications

Several highlighted publications are provided below.

  • Lamont RW, Conroy GC, Reddell P and Ogbourne SM. 2016. Population genetic analysis of a medicinally significant Australian rainforest tree, Fontainea picrosperma C.T. White (Euphorbiaceae): biogeographic patterns and implications for species domestication and plantation establishment. BMC Plant Biology 16:57-68.
  • Ogbourne SM and Parsons PG. 2014. The value of nature's natural product library for the discovery of New Chemical Entities: The discovery of ingenol mebutate. Fitoterapia 98:36-44.
  • Cozzi SJ, Ogbourne SM, James C, Rebel HG, de Gruijl FR, Ferguson B, Gardner J, Lee TT, Larcher T, Suhrbier A. 2012 Ingenol Mebutate Field-Directed Treatment of UVB-Damaged Skin Reduces Lesion Formation and Removes Mutant p53 Patches. J. Invest. Derm. 132:1263-7.
  • Siller G, Gebauer K, Welburn P, Katsamas J, Ogbourne SM. 2009. PEP005 (ingenol mebutate) gel, a novel agent for the treatment of actinic keratosis: results of a randomised, double-blind, vehicle-controlled, phase IIa study. Australas. J. Dermatol. 50:16-22.
  • Ogbourne SM, Hampson P, Lord JM, Parsons P, De Witte PA, Suhrbier A. 2007. Proceedings of the First International Conference on PEP005. Anticancer Drugs. 18:357-62.
  • Ogbourne SM, Suhrbier A, Jones B, Cozzi SJ, Boyle GM, Morris M, McAlpine D, Johns J, Scott TM, Sutherland KP, Gardner JM, Le TT, Lenarczyk A, Aylward J, Parsons PG. 2004. Antitumour activity of 3-ingenyl angelate: Plasma membrane and mitochondrial disruption and necrotic cell death. Can. Res. 64:2833-2839

Potential research projects for HDR and Honours students

PhD Scholarship in Anti-Cancer, Natural Product Transcriptomics

Project Supervisors: Dr Steven Ogbourne and Dr Scott Cummins

Project Description: A number of important plant natural products that are used as human pharmaceuticals have complex chemical structures and cannot be synthesised on a commercial scale. Instead, many of these pharmaceuticals are purified from raw material produced in commercial plantations. In recent years, there has been increased interest in the potential to manufacture such compounds through fermentation using genetically modified yeast.

This project aims to identify genes involved in the biosynthesis of a novel, natural product anti-cancer drug candidate identified from an Australian plant, as a first step in assessing the feasibility of future commercial production of this compound using fermentation. To achieve this, the successful HDR candidate will undertake transcriptome analysis of different tissues from the source plant with the aim of identifying specific genes involved in the biosynthesis of the anti-cancer compound. In situ hybridisation and immuno-localisation will then be employed to determine the location of RNA and protein of the identified genes in the plant tissues. RNA-inhibition (or other ‘knockout’ techniques) will subsequently be used to assess the functionality of these genes.

For further information is available from PhD Scholarship in Anti-Cancer, Natural Product Transcriptomics

Conservation genetics of the commercially significant Queensland species, Santalum lanceolatum.

Project supervisors: Dr Steven Ogbourne and A/Prof David Lee

Queensland sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum R.Br.) has been commercially harvested since 1860. In the Cape York Peninsula (CYP), there was a major industry exporting sandalwood timber to China, however, this industry collapsed around 1940. The remaining trees occur in isolated stands, which are likely to comprise families or clones from root coppice and hence have limited genetic diversity. These isolated stands and are under threat from fire and grazing. This project will determine the genetic diversity and structure of this species in the CYP with the aim of developing an appropriate conservation and domestication program for the species.

In this project you will utilise microsatellite DNA markers and population genetics technology to assess the genetic diversity and structure of CYP Santalum lanceolatum. By undertaking this approach, the successful candidate will develop a broad technical skills base in molecular biology and genetics. The successful candidate will also have an opportunity to participate in field research to collect some of the Santalum lanceolatum material in the CYP.

Reducing the extinction risk of Alectryon ramiflorus.

Project supervisors: Dr Steven Ogbourne and Dr Gabriel Conroy

Alectryon ramiflorus is locally known as the Isis tamarind and belongs to the family Sapindaceae. It is listed as endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and is known from one main population of less than 50 plants in the Cordalba Forest Reserve. A. ramiflorus is threatened by a combination of extremely low population size, low rates of natural regeneration, restricted habitat availability and a variety of potential environmental factors including fire, drought, grazing and weed invasion. Some populations are further threatened as they occur on land not specifically reserved for protection of biodiversity. The Queensland Government have issued a Recovery Plan for A. ramiflorus and one objective highlighted is to undertake research into the genetic diversity of the species. This project will complete this activity as part of a larger project that aims to reduce the extinction risk of this nationally endangered tree species.

In this project you will develop and utilise microsatellite DNA markers to assess the genetic diversity and population genetic structure of A. ramiflorus. By undertaking this research, the successful candidate will develop a broad technical skills base in molecular biology and conservation genetics. The successful candidate will also have an opportunity to undertake field work to collect samples for analysis.

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