Meet our BTB Round 2 Awardees

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22 September 2020

Pictured: The QEDDI team of industry-experienced biologists and medicinal chemists are translating The University of Queensland’s biomedical research into new drug candidates. Photo by UniQuest.

Eight biomedical research projects were recently awarded Biomedical Translation Bridge (BTB) funding of $6.3 million through the Medical Research Future Fund. We take a look a deeper look at the projects selected from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, which have attracted a total of $13.5 million from industry contributions.

BARD1 Life Sciences secured funding for their research team to develop first-in-class SubB2M-based liquid biopsy tests to detect and monitor breast cancer.

Dr Leearne Hinch from BARD1 said: “We greatly appreciate the support of the competitive BTB program and believe this reflects the importance and commercial potential of our novel SubB2M liquid biopsy project to detect and monitor breast cancer treatment response and recurrence. The SubB2M molecule binds to a cancer-specific sugar molecule that is only found on human cancer cells, potentially enabling the development of highly-specific blood tests with low false positives. We believe that our SubB2M-based liquid biopsy tests could radically improve how breast cancer is detected and monitored, addressing this important unmet need in women’s health.”

Biotech company Cincera Therapeutics Pty Ltd, received funding to progress research to develop a drug to treat severe and life-threatening obesity-related health conditions such as NASH, an advanced form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver failure or cancer.

Dr Michael Bettess from Cincera said, “While weight loss and healthy lifestyle are important to ease the stress that toxic fat accumulation can place on an organ, this isn’t always sufficient to repair the damage the disease has already done – especially in the more severe cases. We’re going a step further at Cincera, aiming to create a new drug that blocks the production of toxic or ‘bad’ fats and increases the level of ‘good’ or healthy fats in the body and our research shows these good fats can promote disease modifying responses that may help treat the damage done to the organ.”

South Australian-based medical technology company LBT Innovations is developing the Company’s APAS®-AMR analysis module to be used for antibiotic susceptibility testing (AST) and assessment of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Brent Barnes from LBT Innovations explained, “APAS®-AMR is a really exciting addition to the APAS® suite of technologies. We first presented the technology at ECCMID 2019 and received great interest in the product as an extension for the APAS® independence. Now with the support of the BTB Funding, and the capital raise in July, we are in a great position to bring forward this key development project.”

Envision Sciences Pty Ltd, a cell biology company located at the University of South Australia Cancer Research Institute will use the funding to develop diagnosis and prognostic detection methods for prostate cancer, using blood and tissue samples. Envision Sciences’ novel biomarker discovery program has identified a fundamental change in the cell biology of prostate cancer. The company has used this cutting-edge discovery to identify three biomarkers that define prostate cancer pathogenesis and developed accurate tests to improve clinical practice.

Sydney’s Pharmaxis Ltd has been awarded funding to advance work on the company’s drug discovery for the treatment of the debilitating genetic disorder Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). The project could result in better daily functioning for patients, improved quality of life and longer life expectancy.

Gary Phillips from Pharmaxis said, “Over recent years Pharmaxis investment in drug discovery has progressed three pipeline drugs through pre‐clinical testing to the commencement of human clinical trials and beyond. Non‐dilutive funding sources, such as this one provided by the Australian Government’s BTB grant program, will allow us to similarly progress PXS‐4699 in an orphan disease with high unmet need whilst not detracting from the focused investments we are making in a myelofibrosis treatment and as we await the upcoming FDA decision to grant a marketing authorisation of our cystic fibrosis treatment for patients in the United States.”

The research team from The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Deakin University and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute will receive funding to develop a prototype device to measure ataxia. Ataxia is a movement disorder caused by injury to the brain’s cerebellum area.

Project lead Professor Malcolm Horne from the Florey said the funding will provide various health benefits for patients. “Although our ultimate aim is to find effective treatments, the ability to monitor ataxia progression will allow everyday lifestyle improvement for many people. Falls, injuries and movement challenges are common for people living with ataxia. We expect that the device can become used in routine care and to inform clinical decisions,” said Professor Horne.

The University of Adelaide with Industry Partner Enesi Pharma (UK), will develop a new Zika virus vaccine carried in ImplaVax®-enabled solid dose. This innovative thermostable Zika vaccine formulation will enable simple, robust and needle-free vaccination while eliminating the need for cold storage.

Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk, Head, Viral Immunology Group at the University of Adelaide added, “Zika virus is extremely dangerous if you’re pregnant, severe birth defects such as microcephaly cannot be corrected, and the accompanying disabilities are lifelong and catastrophic. This research aims to develop a novel needle-free vaccine to prevent infection of pregnant women and the resulting devastating congenital effects in the unborn child.”

UniQuest’s drug discovery team was awarded funding to progress its novel first-in-class oral therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer. The project is based on innovative UQ research which identified a key mechanism involved in major cancers.

Dr Mark Ashton from UniQuest said, “This is an exciting new approach to developing treatments for prostate cancer patients who have or will become resistant to standard treatments. Our novel compounds target a non-hormonal mechanism in prostate cancer which we know, based on the UQ research, correlates to disease progression, and we have demonstrated anti-tumour activity in a prostate cancer model comparable to the current standard of care.”

The Biomedical Translation Bridge (BTB) program, provides up to $1 million in matching funding to nurture the translation of new therapies, technologies and medical devices through to the proof of concept stage, operating in partnership with BioCurate (University of Melbourne and Monash University), UniQuest (University of Queensland through its drug discovery initiative QEDDI), the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP, led by Flinders University), and the Bridge and BridgeTech programs (Queensland University of Technology); all pre-eminent organisations engaged in the translation and commercialisation of health and medical research.