Australian biotech researchers and entrepreneurs are being encouraged to apply for funding from Australia’s first national biotech incubator, CUREator, established with $40m funding from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
The incubator, run by the Brandon Capital-managed Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), aims to nurture up to 40 promising research discoveries, and early clinical stage assets, over the next three years to a point where they are ready for further investment.
Expressions of interest are now being sought for the first cohort, with funding to be awarded in early 2022.
“CUREator is for any biomedical researcher who has had that crucial ‘aha’ moment,” says Dr Simon Wilkins, the newly appointed Head of Operations, and a research commercialisation veteran who is joining from the University of Melbourne. “We classify this as the moment a researcher realises their discovery could change a disease state and make a real impact in the world.”
“Australia already produces some of the world’s leading biomedical research and we have a proven pedigree in clinical development, however, many promising discoveries are still not getting to the point where they can be developed into new drugs and therapies. We want to change this and give this field the runway and support here in Australia to go and capture global markets, just as our trailblazing tech companies have.”
CUREator will deliver two streams of activity and any Australian small to medium size enterprise (SME), or life science researcher at an Australian university or research institute, is eligible to apply for funding.
The first stream of $20m will provide capital and hands-on expertise to guide the development of at least 25 promising preclinical biomedical technologies through to proof of concept where they are ready for further investment. Successful applicants will have already established, or will establish a company structure, as part of the incubation process.
The second stream of $20m will provide capital to support the clinical development of novel, clinical stage drug therapies to treat disease. Opportunities that successfully receive funding through this stream, will also have the opportunity to apply for matching investment from the MRCF.
Together, both streams will result in up to a further $60m being invested into the biotech industry over the next three years. Companies that successfully go through the incubator programme may also be eligible for follow on investment from the MRCF’s $700m life sciences fund, the largest in Australia and New Zealand.
Building a pipeline
“Up until now, Australia’s life science investment community has only been able to choose from a small number of ripe, investment-ready biomedical discoveries,” continues Dr Wilkins. “With CUREator, we have the ability to nurture an entire orchard of opportunities on the path to commercialisation in a systematic way. It’s so exciting, it’s going to be a gamechanger.”
Despite Australia ranking in the top few countries globally for biomedical research, the long-time horizons, and capital-intensive nature of biotech investment, means commercialising promising biomedical discovers is challenging, especially as compared to tech commercialisation, Dr Wilkins says.
“With CUREator, we now have the capital, national co-ordination and access to Brandon Capital’s proven commercialisation expertise, to fund and nurture the next generation of Australian biomedical discoveries.”
Dr Chris Nave, CEO and co-founder of the MRCF, says that while this initial three-year funding round for CUREator is an important step forward, the reality is that gaps, or even chasms, remain in terms of access to adequate capital for biotech translation. “This is a great start, however, the reality is that to have a meaningful, long-term impact, Australian medical researchers and biotech entrepreneurs require permanent access to this type of funding, and more of it. Only with this type of funding can we achieve the type of health and financial dividends the country deserves for its significant level of annual investment into the sector.”
“While CUREator will provide grant funding, our strategy is to deploy it like venture capitalists, with clear milestones and deliverables.”
Dr Anne-Laure Puaux, Head of Biotechnology and Commercialisation at WEHI, says CUREator will be an incredibly helpful tool in bridging the gap from where traditional research funding ends but before seed investment begins. “There are many promising life science research projects that, until now, have progressed as far as they can with research funding but aren’t at a point where they are a viable investment. This will be a powerful tool to help more promising Australian medical discoveries to be commercialised.”
Dr Wilkins brings over 20 years of experience in research commercialisation, business development and technology advisory. In 2016 he co-founded Translating Research at Melbourne (TRAM), a cohort-based experiential program to develop the entrepreneurial capability and business skills of researchers at the University of Melbourne and across the Parkville Biomedical Precinct. TRAM has now trained over 350 researchers, attracted over $6M in investment and accelerated the establishment of nine research-based start-ups.
Simon is also an adjunct associate professor with the Melbourne Business School, teaching into the award-winning, BioDesign Innovation program, and serves on the Board of Directors for Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA), the peak body leading best practice in industry engagement, commercialisation and entrepreneurship for research organisations.
For those interested in finding out more about CUREator eligibility, a webinar has been organised for midday AEDT Wednesday 17 November. Please register here.
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About the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and Brandon Capital Partners
Brandon Capital Partners is a venture capital firm that manages the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), Australia and New Zealand’s largest life science investment fund, with more than $700 million under management. The MRCF is a unique collaboration between major Australian superannuation funds, the Australian and New Zealand governments, Australian state governments and more than 50 leading medical research institutes and research hospitals. The MRCF supports the development and commercialisation of early-stage biomedical discoveries associated with member research organisations, providing both capital and expertise to guide the successful development of new therapies. The MRCF has supported more than 46 start-up companies to date, most of which were founded by the MRCF.
For more information about the MRCF visit: https://biocatalyst.mrcfplatform.com/
For more information about Brandon Capital Partners visit: www.brandoncapital.com.au
Delivered by the Brandon Capital-managed MRCF, CUREator is backed by the Australian Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund. The MRFF’s $80 million Medical Research Commercialisation Initiative aims to support early-stage health and medical research and innovation in Australia through to proof-of-concept and beyond, providing opportunities for commercialisation. CUREator is responsible for managing a $40m portion of this fund which is dedicated to supporting novel therapeutics and preclinical medical research.
For more information about CUREator visit: biocatalyst.mrcfplatform.com/cureator