MEDSCI 713 : Principles of Cancer Therapy

Medical and Health Sciences

2023 Semester One (1233) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Examines the molecular and cellular processes underlying cancer treatment and the development of tumour-selective therapy; the principles of radiotherapy and chemotherapy; DNA and the basis for its interactions with anticancer drugs; recognition of DNA by proteins; exploitation of these processes by anticancer drugs, oncogenes and other regulatory gene products; signal transduction mechanisms and strategies for changing cell cycle control; cytokines and the role of host responses in cancer therapy; new approaches to cancer therapy including gene therapy and photodynamic therapy.

Course Overview

The course covers the major strategies currently used to treat cancer including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted drugs, immunotherapies and biological therapies such as monoclonal antibodies. The course is delivered by lecturers who are all directly involved in the development of new cancer therapies who can deliver in depth insights into the latest advances in this area.

The course runs in 12x2 hour teaching sessions. Each consists of a mix of lectures, discussion  and seminars. Seminars are interactive, reinforcing lecture content and providing examples of concepts raised in lectures. 

During seminars, original research papers are presented by individual students. Seminar papers are carefully chosen by lecturers to emphasise important teaching points and provide demonstrative examples of selected cancer therapies (clinical and experimental). There is ample opportunity to discuss both lecture content and original research presented during seminars. 

The largest assignment is a 3000-word essay on a topic covering a developmental area of cancer therapy. Essay topics are provided at the start of a semester and are independent of lectures. You will need to commit an independent study time to find literature in this area, synthesise and evaluate information from multiple research papers, including from other disciplines, recognise patterns and controversies in the field, draw conclusions about the potential for clinical translation, critique and summarise implications for both future research and clinical applications. The aim of an essay is to stimulate your interest and critical thinking in a specific area of experimental cancer therapy. 

Seminar presentations and essays are marked according to a comprehensive marking sheet provided to both students and lecturers at the start of a semester. Multiple examples of past student seminars and essays are provided to guide student performance. There is potential to convert outstanding essays into publications, but this typically requires additional commitment beyond the time-line of the course, so it is optional.

This course provides strong foundation for Honours, Masters or PhD in any area of cancer research. The focus is on biological underpinnings of anti-cancer therapies but we also have pharmacy and bioengineering students, medical laboratory scientists, nurses and other interdisciplinary students (including from the enterprise programme) regularly taking this course. 

If you have a strong interest in cancer biology, you may wish to combine MedSCi 713 with MedSci 714 (Advanced Cancer Biology), but this is not required. 

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: MEDSCI 302

Course Contacts

Course Director:
Professor Peter Shepherd
Department of Molecular Medicine & Pathology, 
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Grafton Campus
UOA profile:

Course Administrator:
Ganan Jeyakumar
Grafton Campus Administration

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 3: Solution Seeking
Capability 4: Communication and Engagement
Capability 5: Independence and Integrity

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Understand rationale and the mechanism of action of selected cancer therapies, both those already used in the clinic and others that are still being designed or developed. (Capability 1.1 and 1.2)
  2. Develop an appreciation of research methods (ranging from modern molecular and cellular techniques, animal models to clinical trials) that are employed in research to develop and test novel cancer therapies. (Capability 3.1)
  3. Evaluate research developments in selected areas of cancer therapy, drawing on the knowledge from this course and your own, independent study. (Capability 2.1 and 2.2)
  4. Demonstrate the ability to recognise gaps in current cancer therapies and treatment outcomes, and propose experiments and strategies that can help address these gaps. (Capability 2.2, 3.2 and 5.1)
  5. Showcase your knowledge and understanding of selected aspects of cancer therapy in a clear, logical and attractive manner, by delivering independently prepared assignments that use your own language and incorporate your own schematics and figures. (Capability 4.1 and 4.2)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Essay 35% Individual Coursework
Presentation 15% Individual Coursework
Assignments 10% Group Coursework
Final Exam 40% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5
Final Exam

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in.

For this course, you can expect the following weekly allocation of workload: 1 hour of lectures, 1 hour of seminars, 6 hours of work on assignments and 2 hours on exam preparation. The course includes a group project that involves a presentation and a written report.

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience or Online & Campus Experience or Online

This course is offered in two delivery modes:

Campus Experience

Attendance is required at scheduled activities including all teaching sessions.

Lectures will be available as recordings.  

The course will not include live online events including

Attendance on campus is not required for the exam.

The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable.


Attendance is required at scheduled online activities.
The course will include live online events including lectures and student seminars and these will be recorded.
Attendance on campus is not required for the exam.
Where possible, study material will be released progressively throughout the course.
This course runs to the University semester/quarter timetable and all the associated completion dates and deadlines will apply.

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

There is no textbook specific for MEDSCI 713; all resources will be provided on Canvas and as reading lists.

Student Feedback

At the end of every semester students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback and respond with summaries and actions.

Your feedback helps teachers to improve the course and its delivery for future students.

Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the department and faculty staff-student consultative committees.

In 2019 SET Evaluations, the overall level of student satisfaction with this course was very high. The final score for the course was above the average of other postgraduate courses in the Faculty and the University. Students indicated high level of satisfaction with the course content, structure and organisation. 

This is what students said they liked about MedSci 713:
Students enjoyed the interactive lecture style broken down into small activities. The learning objectives were laid out clearly; references given for the essay made the writing process easier; all lecturers were approachable. The great majority of students found teaching in small groups helpful, the course intellectually stimulating with useful assessments, and they enjoyed the course. Students appreciated that the first round of seminars were group activities, which facilitated steady practice of presentation skills and research analysis. 

This is what students suggested to change:
Students asked if we could increase value of the coursework relative to the exam, which we thought was appropriate. In 2021 the exam percentage will be reduced from 45% to 40%.

Other Information

MEDSCI 302 Cancer Biology course is strongly recommended but not an absolute prerequisite for this course. The following textbooks, available in the library, can be used to access background information if required: Tannock et al. (eds.) The Basic Science of Oncology and Weinberg et al. (eds.) The Biology of Cancer.

This course is designed to work in parallel with Medsci714. That course focusses on the biological basis of cancer and Medsci713 focusses on how we use that information to develop effective treatments for this disease. All of the lecturers in Medsci713 are directly involved in developing new anti-cancer drugs themselves or in treating cancer.

In the past there were 12 individual lectures in the course but  it will now be delivered 5 main blocks of 2 lectures each.  Each block will also be delivered by 2 lecturers to provide maximum levels of continuity and cohesion of course content and to provide extra levels of backup and support for students as we deal with the possibilities of fluctuations in course delivery modes due to COVID

1. Precision medicine in cancer therapy using small molecule drugs including protein kinase inhibitors as modulators of signal transduction.

Professor Peter Shepherd and A/Prof Jeffrey Smaill

2. Hypoxia in tumours and impacts for small molecule therapies and radiation therapy

A/Prof Adam Patterson and Dr Benjamin Dickson

3. Antibodies and other biological drugs in treating cancer

Professor Peter Shepherd and Dr Moana Tercel

4. Targeting the tumour microenvironment including the immune system to improve cancer therapy response

Dr Kimi Henare and Dr Petr Tomek

5. Treating haematologic malignancies including cellular therapies and modulation of the bone marrow microenvironment

Dr Maggie Kalev and Dr Andrew Wood

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed against online source material using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.