Located on the southeastern coast of Australia, Melbourne is one of the leading life science hubs in the Asia Pacific region, according to a CBRE report published in 2021. With more and more investors taking an interest in the Melbourne region, this contributes to the country’s market value of $170 billion in the sector, with numerous innovative biotech companies making their mark.
The city’s expanding life science cluster saw growth by nearly 20% in 2020, at a time when the overall Asia Pacific market had dipped by 25%. The city is home to multinational companies like medtech company PolyNovo which develops polymers that treat wounds, and biopharma company Clinuvel, which specializes in metabolic and acute disorders. Other global companies like Thermo Fisher, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer operate in Melbourne too.
In this article, let us take a look at six biotech companies that have received funding over the past two years, to help strengthen their pipelines, commercialize their drugs and advance their technologies.
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Nutromics is one among Melbourne’s biotech companies that secured funding this year. Having bagged A$11 million ($7 million) in pre-series funding, it looks to commercialize its continuous diagnostic monitoring technology, which is the world’s first precision diagnostic platform, in the next few years.
With an aim to accelerate diagnostics in the clinic by integrating biotech and software technology, it has developed a skin patch device that contains DNA-based sensors that are coated onto the surface of minimally invasive microneedles. One patch can have dozens of sensors since each microneedle is a separate sensor. This lab-on-a-patch can help track various targets like biomarkers in the body continuously and in real time. The synthetic DNA strand remains unfolded until it spots its target, after which it changes shape, which the software decodes to identify the presence and the amount of the target. The patch is being designed to integrate with the clinical system, to be able to project the result on screens.
As lab diagnostics can only provide a single data point from a blood test that was taken many hours prior, which accounts for 70% of clinical decisions. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, it may lead to poor patient outcomes. Nutromics aims to tackle this issue with the help of its technology.
The biotech, which was established in 2017, had raked in funds worth $14 million, in another fundraising in September last year. The company’s technology is currently being tested in clinical trials at Monash University in Melbourne.
Melbourne-based biotech company Ena Respiratory was awarded $4.38 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to speed up the development of its lead drug candidate INNA-051, earlier this year.
Specializing in the field of innate immune modulators, the company’s candidate is a nasal spray that is being designed to target respiratory viral infections in people who do not respond well to vaccinations due to immunosuppression, and those who have a higher risk of being exposed to viral diseases. These include patients with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease and patients with comorbidities.
INNA-05, a synthetic pegylated TLR2/6 agonist, aims to boost the body’s immune system. While the body’s natural defense system fights viruses and other pathogens, this mechanism is subdued in people with chronic respiratory diseases. So, the drug candidate works by activating TLR2 receptors in lung cells, which enables the immune system, particularly macrophages, to combat the virus.
INNA-051 was found to have improved respiratory virus clearance as well as reduced the duration of infection in a phase 2a clinical study. Ena Respiratory plans to conduct a phase 2b study soon.
Committed to bringing cellular medicines to the forefront of treating inflammatory conditions, Melbourne-based Mesoblast’s drug candidate, remestemcel-L, is currently in phase 3 trials for the treatment of steroid-refractory acute graft versus host disease (SR-aGVHD) as well as moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). It is also developing Rexlemesocel-L, which is being investigated as a treatment for heart failure and chronic lower back pain.
Mesoblast’s cell therapies include mesenchymal lineage cells that have been taken from healthy donors, and expanded to a reproducible cell population for scale-up purposes. One of the advantages of these cells is that they can be given to patients without them undergoing donor-recipient matching.
Also in its pipeline is MPC-300-IV, a potential treatment for diabetic nephropathy and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is in phase 2 trials at the moment. MPC-300-IV is made up of 300 million mesenchymal precursor cells (MPCs) that are delivered to patients intravenously. It works by inhibiting proinflammatory pathways – like TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-17 – in both cases.
The Melbourne-based biotech company’s remestemcel-L for treating children under the age of 12 who have been diagnosed with SR-aGVHD was rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which demanded additional data, earlier this year. However, it aims to pour the U.S. $40 million that it received in a private placement in April, into launching remestemcel-L, as well as proceeding with a confirmatory phase 3 clinical trial of rexlemestrocel-L in patients with chronic lower back pain.
The radiopharmaceuticals market was valued at 5.2 billion in 2022, which is forecasted to double by 2030, according to Vantage Market Research. Telix Pharmaceuticals is among the many that contribute to this market.
With a mission to advance precision care, the company has a pipeline that is based on molecularly targeted radiation, which aims to surpass the effectiveness of radiotherapies as they have a more reputable safety profile. Its Gallium 68 radioisotope small molecule for the treatment of prostate cancer, is a diagnostic imaging tool that is currently on the market. Its Lutetium 177 prostate cancer therapeutic agent is in phase 2 trials at the moment. Moreover, its theranostic candidates that target the brain and kidney are in phase 3 and phase 2 trials as well.
Additionally, according to interim data that was published earlier this month, its radio-antibody drug conjugate (rADC) investigational therapy, TLX591, was found to be safe and tolerable, after patients with prostate cancer were administered two doses that were two weeks apart, along with standard of care.
The Melbourne-based biotech company’s imaging kit for prostate cancer, Illuccix, was approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Health Canada, which has led to its commercialization in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
Telix had raised $175 million to advance its pipeline towards commercialization, last year.
Founded in 2015 in Melbourne, clinical-stage biotech company Aravax is dedicated to developing a disease-modifying treatment for peanut allergy.
Its drug candidate PVX108, is an immunotherapy that aims to reset immune balance among Treg cells and Th2 cells, regulatory and proinflammatory T cells that tend to be present in varied, unbalanced amounts in the case of allergies. Excess Th2 accumulates in the body and triggers other cells in a cascade of reactions, inducing allergic symptoms that include inflammation, bronchoconstriction – the tightening of muscles in the lungs making it hard to breathe – vomiting and hives.
PVX108, which consists of peptides, is designed to target these T cells. These peptides, which are not big enough to cause an allergic reaction, are presented to T cells. They help turn off Th2 cells and activate Treg cells. This helps dampen the allergic reaction in the body.
For PVX108’s further progress in clinical trials, the company raised $20 million in a series B round last year in December. The drug candidate is being studied in a double-blind, randomized phase 2 trial in adolescents and children with peanut allergies. It received the FDA nod for its investigational new drug (IND) application last year.
Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a process that causes epithelial cancer cells to spread and metastasize. Cancer therapy company Propanc Biopharma is developing a technology that is based on pancreatic proenzyme therapy that targets the EMT mechanism to kill cancer cells.
Pancreatic enzymes, which help digest proteins and fats, are known to be a primary defense against pancreatic cancer. As proenzymes suppress pathways that lead to EMT, Propanc’s proenzyme therapy aims to weaken the structure of cancer cells by converting the protein actin from its globular to its filamentous form. This leads to the collapse of the structure, thereby triggering cell death.
Based on this technology, the company has two drug candidates in its pipeline. PRP and POP1 are presently in preclinical and research stages. PRP is derived from two proenzymes trypsinogen and chymotrypsinogen – precursors to enzymes that help break proteins down – which aids in the suppression of metastasis and tumor relapse, while having minimal toxic effects on the body. With the goal to bring PRP to the market, Propanc believes that it could be used in hospitals as preventative care for at-risk patients, as well as to manage early-stage tumors. PRP will soon be taken to the clinic for first-in-human trials in patients with advanced solid tumors, which will be held at Peter Mac Cancer Center in Melbourne.
The Melbourne-based biotech company has raised a total of $150,000 since its launch in 2007, out of which it recently obtained $120,000 in a debt financing round.
Fostering Melbourne’s biotech companies: the impact of the bioincubator
With a growing biotech industry looking to increase research and development, Melbourne now accommodates a bioincubator that aims to boost R&D in early-stage biotech companies. It is set to open its doors to these budding companies next year. The incubator is a collaboration between biotech giant CSL, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and the University of Melbourne, to help provide technical support to startups, in an effort to cut costs for these young companies. Initiatives like this can further grow Melbourne’s biotech industry, enabling it to become a stronger contender in the field, not only in Australia and the Asia Pacific region, but also on a global scale.