The government-backed national biotechnology incubator has made its first round of grants, worth $17.4m, to start-up companies around the nation tackling health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The incubator, CUREator, has funded 23 medical projects with the aim of helping them reach the stage where they attract commercial investment.
Established with $40m from the Medical Research Future Fund, CUREator aims to support early-stage biomedical technology with funding and other assistance.
CUREator operations chief Simon Wilkins said the 23 companies were working “on amazing treatments across many different therapeutic areas”.
Medical problems being targeted include various cancers, inflammatory disease, retina degeneration, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, pain treatment, diabetes and virus-induced tissue damage.
One of the companies being backed, Phrenix, is working on new drugs targeting the lesser-known symptoms of schizophrenia – problems with attention, learning and memory.
“None of the treatments we use for schizophrenia have any effect (on these). The unmet medical need is huge,” said Phrenix chief executive Chris Langmead.
Professor Langmead, who is also deputy director of the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre at Monash University, said he hoped the new drugs could one day supplement or replace a patient’s current medication.
The CUREator grant will allow Phrenix to profile the drugs it is working on and compare them to others and help get the company to a stage where commercial investors are drawn to support the project.
“The beauty of the CUREator scheme is that it addresses the gap between the research that is done by scientists and the appetite for a pharmaceutical company to engager and invest,” Professor Langmead said.
Another company in the first round, RAGE Biotech, is using messenger RNA technology to create an inhalable drug to reduce inflammation in the lungs caused by things such as smoking, pollution or genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis. “Inflammation drives the process which leads scarring and loss of function,” said chief executive Chris Wraight.
He said that such chronic lung disease was difficult to target with traditional technologies but mRNA opened up new avenues. Their approach tilts the many possible messages which mRNA carries from genes to create proteins, towards “healthy” messages that moderate inflammation.
RAGE Biotech will use its grant on animal experiments to build up the data needed for a human trial.
19 July, 2022