9 March 2000

Queensland's rapidly emerging biotechnology industry will be enhanced with the establishment of Xenome Limited, an IMB spin-off company from The University of Queensland launched in January this year. Xenome has been initially funded by Medica Holdings Limited an ASX-listed Pooled Development Fund.

Toxins from Australian venomous creatures promise a rich source of new drug leads for Xenome Ltd, according to Dr Roger Drinkwater, the company's General Manager and Head of Molecular Biology research.

"Australia has an immense wealth of natural compounds tied up within its broad array of unique venomous creatures and Xenome's activities are aimed at discovering the valuable components of this treasure," he said.

"Venom compounds offer an exciting new pathway to the development of pharmaceuticals. These compounds have already been designed by nature to be very potent, and to interact very specifically with ion channels and receptors involved in transmitting and receiving nerve signals. By defining how they work in humans, the same compounds could be used to control nerve function, particularly in disorder and disease states. "

"This has the potential to lead to the development of a new generation of pharmaceuticals that have fewer side effects, and can be used at exceptionally low doses."

"A large number of new compounds have been discovered by the venom peptide research already conducted at The University of Queensland, and these compounds have been licensed to Xenome.

Dr Drinkwater indicated that Xenome intends to further test their pharmaceutical potential, particularly for treating neurological conditions. One molecule discovered and patented by the University has shown excellent potential for the treatment of intractable pain. This molecule has been licensed to AMRAD, and has been approved to enter human clinical trials early in 2000.

As part of Xenome's licence with the University, the company will receive the University's royalty income stream should the molecule successfully complete the transition to the clinical market. Several other molecules that have been licensed to Xenome are also good drug candidates, and are in the process of being patented and developed further.

IMB co-director and Xenome Ltd board member Professor Peter Andrews said Xenome had arisen from a very successful venom peptide research program conducted at The University of Queensland over the past five years. This work had been carried out in conjunction with CSIRO and AMRAD, and supported by AusIndustry grants.

"Xenome will continue to maintain strong research links to The University of Queensland, particularly with the IMB, where fundamental research programs are being developed that will see a broad integration of genomics, cell biology and drug development particularly in relation to venom peptides. These links will be developed and maintained through joint and shared appointments between Xenome and the University," Professor Andrews said.

The foundation scientists at Xenome are Dr Drinkwater, Dr Richard Lewis (Research Manager, pharmacology) and Professor Paul Alewood (Research Manager, peptide chemistry). These scientists have each worked with the venom peptide research programs either at The University of Queensland or at CSIRO.

Media: Further information:: Dr Roger Drinkwater - telephone 3720 8055, Professor Peter Andrews - telephone 3365 1276.