BTB Funds COVID-19 Research Efforts In Australia

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13 October 2020

Pictured: Healthcare workers feel safer administering oxygen therapies to COVID-19 patients while using the isolation hood. Photo by: Penny Stephens, Western Health.  

Recently, MTPConnect and Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, announced $4.1 million in funding for five COVID-19 research projects through the third round of the Biomedical Translation Bridge (BTB) program.

Round three of BTB specifically targeted COVID-19 projects (medical devices, diagnostics, prophylactic or therapeutic approaches) that will achieve an impact in less than 12-months. The funding also attracted $14.4 million in industry contributions.

Clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company Dimerix Limited has been awarded funding to support development and clinical evaluation of DMX-200, a new treatment for respiratory complications resulting from COVID-19, which is currently part of a global clinical study with a potential fast track pathway to clinical practice.

Dr Nina Webster from Dimerix explained, “We are delighted to receive this acknowledgement and support through the BTB program [and] we believe this funding and endorsement is a reflection on the strong scientific rationale for DMX-200 to reduce damage from inflammatory cells by blocking their signalling and limiting subsequent onset of fibrosis in the lung.”

SpeeDx, a recipient of BTB Round 1, is partnering with researchers from Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District’s (NBMLHD) Nepean Hospital Intensive Care Unit to support the commercialisation of a respiratory virus host response test – a rapid-response assay to enhance current COVID-19 management activities and future viral pandemic preparedness.

Colin Denver from SpeeDx said, “The MTPConnect BTB funding will be instrumental in advancing our commercialisation process and supporting the tight timelines we are setting in order to bring this important product to market.”

The development of a COVID-19 antiviral nasal spray is the latest innovation from Starpharma that could provide a potential preventative and treatment option, based on Starpharma’s proprietary, marketed dendrimer, SPL7013.

Dr Jackie Fairley from Starpharma commented: “We are very pleased that the SPL7013 COVID‑19 nasal spray has been selected for this grant, especially from such a large and competitive field of applicants. This is an important initiative aimed at accelerating Australian innovations to address the global COVID-19 pandemic and we thank the Government for continuing to fund programs like these that drive the local development of novel, innovative therapies for patients globally.

“The selection of Starpharma’s program recognises its near-term potential and the global relevance of the SPL7013 COVID‑19 nasal spray, with differentiated features that are complementary to other preventative strategies, like vaccines. We are proud of our contribution to the Australian biomedical industry response to combat COVID-19.”

A collaboration between intensive care specialist Dr Forbes McGain at Western Health and multi-disciplinary engineering experts from the University of Melbourne, led by Professor Jason Monty, has engineered a “ventilation hood” designed to protect healthcare workers and patients from COVID-19. The first demonstration of the “ventilation hood” was at Footscray Hospital, and the device was trialled for comfort with patients at Western Health. The BTB funding will enable the collaboration between the University of Melbourne, Western Health and Evan Evans to bring the hood to market within 12-months.

“Dr McGain revealed to us a serious unmet need in hospital response to the pandemic, which is to contain the COVID-19 virus expelled by patients in a hospital, in order to reduce the risk of infection for healthcare workers,” Professor Monty said recently on the University of Melbourne’s ‘Pursuit’ website.

A COVID-19 vaccine candidate, called Covax-19®, is being developed by the team at Vaxine, led by Professor Nikolai Petrovsky. Vaxine, based in South Australia, has a long history in vaccine development, being the first to manufacture the world’s first vaccine for swine flu in 2009. The company developed the first Australian COVID-19 vaccine to enter human clinical trials.

“Thanks to our unique ability to run computer simulations on the virus before it is even fully characterised, we were able to dramatically speed up the ability to design Covax-19® vaccine," said Prof. Petrovsky.

The Biomedical Translation Bridge program, an initiative of the Medical Research Future Fund operated by MTPConnect, 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.