Billionaires Andrew and Nicola Forrest are taking aim at peanut allergy with their new healthcare venture, backing a small biotech looking to develop the first safe, convenient, and targeted treatment for the common allergen.
Tenmile was launched with an initial $250 million investment in August and is owned by Tattarang, the Forrest family office.
After receiving a $US20 million ($29.8 million) commitment to Series B round from life science investor Brandon Capital and Tenmile, biotech Aravax is kicking off its Phase 2 trials of PVX108, hoping to eventually be able to offer a therapy for the highly common peanut allergy.
Tenmile executive chairman Steve Burnell told The Australian Financial Review he looks for good, strong science and a big medical unmet need when investing.
“Aravax ticks a number of boxes. It’s exciting that’s coming out of Australia. It’s got a fantastic international scientific advisory and guidance already, which is really important for small Australian companies,” Dr Burnell said.
Peanut allergy affects 1 per cent to 2 per cent of the global population but is greatly underserved by the approved treatment options which use natural extracts from peanuts. These therapies need to be administered every day, indefinitely, and require onerous precautions to manage the risk of treatment-induced systemic reactions.
The reaction from those who are allergic to peanuts ranges from mild symptoms such as swelling of face, lips and/or eyes to serious anaphylaxis, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia says.
Australia has a relatively high prevalence of peanut allergy with almost 3 per cent of children aged one suffering from it. About 20 per cent of children grow out of their peanut allergy.
CEO Pascal Hickey said Aravax’s PVX108 is a platform technology, and does not contain peanut proteins which put patients at risk of serious side effects. It is designed to retrain the immune system to tolerate peanut allergens, and requires monthly, rather than daily dosing.
“PVX108 has revolutionary potential because we have engineered out the safety risks associated with current approaches. Furthermore, the precise action of PVX108 affords a vaccine-like dosing regimen which is expected to be more convenient than the daily dosing required for other therapies, likely resulting in better adherence,” Dr Hickey said.
Dr Burnell, a former Roche Group executive, said the technology is a platform that could theoretically be deployed against a number of allergic reaction related immune diseases.
Dr Hickey said, although most reactions to peanuts are mild, many patients will go on to experience a life-threatening reaction unexpectedly.
Aravax has received a green light for its investigational new drug application from the US Food and Drug Administration and has a clinical trial notification in place with Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration which allows Aravax to progress the Phase 2 clinical trial program in both countries.
“Witnessing the positive data from pre-clinical studies and Phase 1, we’re excited about the potential of the therapy in creating a safer, more convenient treatment for people with peanut allergies,” said Brandon Capital partner Chris Smith.
Tenmile has a global mandate, aiming for about 80 per cent capital deployment in Australian-based companies. The fund wasted no time making multiple investments since launching including ASX-listed medicinal cannabis and psychedelic drug developer Emyria, cancer therapy-focused Carina BioTech and a small investment drug discovery company Psylo which is focusing on psychedelic-inspired medicine to treat mental illness.
The Perth-based Tenmile also has partnered with San Francisco-based digital health fund Rock Health, with plenty more deals in the pipeline.
Dr Burnell said Tenmile will have completed eight investments by the end of January, and with valuations falling in the last 12 months, there are more investible opportunities emerging internationally.
The Australian Financial Review
20 December 2022