26 February 1999

University research centre forms spinoff drug commercialisation companies

The University of Queensland's Centre for Drug Design and Development has launched three spin-off biotechnology companies to further develop intellectual property and commercialise the results of its research.

The companies will work on areas as diverse as new drugs from Australia's venomous and toxic creatures, to promising drug leads for human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) treatment.

Centre for Drug Design and Development (3D Centre) commercial manager Dr Ashley Bowen said each of the new companies, Cytokine Mimetics Ltd, Promics and Xenome Ltd, had a specific purpose in the marketplace.

o Cytokine Mimetics Ltd (CML) was founded last year by Centre director Professor Peter Andrews and 3D Centre researcher Dr Mark Smythe. The University still wholly owns the company, but over the next few months Professor Andrews expects to raise venture capital and hire employees.

The University has established CML with the support of Medica Holdings Pty Ltd, an Australian venture capital company. It is anticipated that a further venture capital or major pharmaceutical industry investment will be sought before the company is listed in three to five years.

CML will develop and commercialise the Centre's significant and exclusive intellectual property base in molecules that mimic or inhibit the action of cytokines.

Cytokines are molecules that regulate cells in specific tissues or organs. They are important targets for disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, cancer, inflammation and multiple sclerosis.

"Cytokines themselves have considerable potential as therapeutics," Professor Andrews said. "Examples of billion dollar cytokine products include erythropoietin (EPO) and colony-stimulating factors.

"3D Centre researchers have now developed a novel approach to overcome stability and bioavailabity problems which involves mapping key features of the cytokines onto frameworks with better bioavailability characteristics. The process has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of many diseases."

Professor Andrews said Cytokine Mimetics would form its activities around specific deals with large pharmaceutical companies.

o Promics, which is in the process of starting up, is being established to commercialise novel chemical technology created at the 3D Centre. The company will develop and market novel small molecules that reproduce, or mimic, secondary structural characteristics of proteins to make therapeutic compounds that retain the activity of proteins but have improved stability and bioavailability.

Scientific leader of the company and 3D Centre Associate Professor David Fairlie said the small molecule approach had succeeded in important classes of proteins such as protease (enzyme) inhibitors and G protein-coupled receptor antagonists.

Promics is working on ready-for-commercialisation drug leads such as HIV protease inhibitors, feline AIDS inhibitors and human C5a antagonists. C5a is over-expressed in inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and Alzheimer's disease.

The company plans to license receptor antagonists and protease inhibitors it develops to companies and to work with companies that have their own disease targets. Sepsis and inflammatory diseases provide potentially multi-billion dollar markets for treatments.

o Xenome Ltd has been incorporated as a public, research-based drug discovery and development company with support from UniQuest Ltd, the University's technology transfer company, and Medica Holdings Ltd. The company is concerned with discovering and developing new drugs and drug leads from the venoms and toxins of Australian aquatic and land creatures, particularly marine coneshell species.

One of Xenome's three research directors and 3D Centre deputy director Associate Professor Paul Alewood said the company was building libraries of the DNA sequences encoding venom peptides and planned to use the peptides as drug candidates against a variety of targets.

Among Xenome's first drug leads are peptides with unique pharmacological profiles which could provide novel treatments for conditions including head trauma, stroke, chronic pain, epilepsy, lower urinary tract disorders, Alzheimer's disease, cognitive and mood disorders and cardiovascular disorders.

Xenome has first right of refusal to licence and commercially develop the venom-based research emanating from the University's Centre for Drug Design and Development.

For further information, contact:
- CML: Dr Mark Smythe or Professor Peter Andrews, telephone 07 3365 1271, email: m.smythe@mailbox.uq.edu.au, p.andrews@mailbox.uq.edu.au
- Promics: Dr David Fairlie or Dr Ashley Bowen, telephone 07 3365 1271, email: d.fairlie@mailbox.uq.edu.au, a.bowen@mailbox.uq.edu.au
- Xenome Ltd - Associate Professor Paul Alewood, Dr Roger Drinkwater, Dr Richard Lewis, telephone 07 3365 1270, email: p.alewood@mailbox.uq.edu.au, roger.drinkwater@tag.csiro.au, r.lewis@mailbox.uq.edu.au