THE world’s most powerful healthcare investment analysts have thrown their weight behind a Hunter Medical Research Institute anti-cancer drug that was 15 years in the making.
The endorsement yesterday unlocked $27million worth of global institutional investment and represents the highest level of recognition achieved by a HMRI project to date.
The drug, known as Cavatak, is potentially among the most significant immunotherapy drugs developed for the treatment of melanoma over the past decade.
Its owners, Australian company Viralytics, will use the investment funds to conduct one UK and two US clinical trials before its commercialisation.
‘‘The important thing is not just the quantum of the money, but the nature of where it comes from,’’ said University of Newcastle Associate Professor Darren Shafren, who has been involved in the drug’s development from day one.
‘‘It’s a very significant development for Australian biotech companies.’’
The drug’s origins go back to 1998 when Associate Professor Shafren won the inaugural HMRI young researcher of the year award, sponsored by the Greater Building Society.
His prize included $5000 plus $20,000 towards a nominated research project.
‘‘It was research on the common cold virus with a view to developing something that was an antiviral drug,’’ Associate Professor Shafren said.
‘‘During that process we discovered the particular virus that we were working on had anti-cancer properties on tumour cells, particularly melanoma. That’s how it all kicked off.’’
Fifteen researchers are now involved in the drug’s development.
HMRI director Michael Nilsson said the drug’s success in attracting investment funding was a wonderful example of how seed funding for a promising idea can develop into a project of global significance.
‘‘It’s an original idea, conceived in the Hunter, which operates on a new treatment principle. Darren and his team have been remarkably astute from both a scientific and commercial perspective in progressing the therapy along the translational pathway,’’ Professor Nilsson said. ‘‘Projects of this kind are what the Hunter has the potential to deliver and the perfect outcome of our mission around translational medicine.’’
Greater Building Society chief executive Don Magin said Associate Professor Shafren’s achievement was an example of why Hunter businesses should support talented researchers.
‘‘It is very rewarding to see home-grown research that the Greater Building Society helped to kick-start be taken to the next level of clinical trials and closer to commercialisation,’’ Mr Magin said.
‘‘More importantly, it is exciting that this Hunter idea has the potential to help many people locally and worldwide.’’
University of Newcastle acting deputy vice-chancellor of research Nick Talley said: ‘‘This novel approach to funding will ensure we continue to develop world-class health research in the Hunter, for the benefit of the local community and beyond.”