16 June 2015

Queensland will soon be home to a major initiative to discover and develop new drugs to combat health issues including cancer, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and infectious diseases.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the establishment of the University of Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative (QEDDI) at the International BIO Conference in Philadelphia overnight (15 June).

“QEDDI will see the development of a pipeline of potential new drugs to meet existing and future health challenges in Queensland, throughout Australia, and internationally,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“QEDDI will draw on the expertise of Emory University’s Institute for Drug Development (EIDD), which is led by the inventor of the world’s most widely-used HIV drugs, Professor Dennis Liotta, and the associated successful and innovative, not-for-profit biotechnology company, Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE).”

Through a reinvestment of returns from its already-successful commercialisation activities, UQ will inject $30 million over the next 10 years into QEDDI. The State Government has begun discussions with UQ about the structure of its support.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the Queensland Government’s support was a tremendous vote of confidence in UQ’s expertise in human therapeutics.

He said the investment would enable the state to build on the record of entrepreneurial scientists such as Professor Ian Frazer – who co-invented the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine - and Professor Maree Smith, inventor of the pain drug in Spinifex Pharmaceuticals.

“More therapeutics are coming down the pipeline, not only from Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, but also from other UQ start-ups, Protagonist Therapeutics and Dendright,” Professor Høj said.

“QEDDI will also enhance our existing partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, and enable more strategic partnerships in the future.

“The timing of Premier Palaszczuk’s announcement, at the world’s biggest biotechnology industry event, enables UQ and UniQuest to make the case for investment in QEDDI to leading biotech financiers.

“Emory is one of the world’s most successful universities in the translation of biological discoveries into treatments, and the Institute for Drug Development’s leader, Professor Dennis Liotta, is one of the inventors of 10 drug combinations currently on the market.  It is estimated that over 90 per cent of current HIV patients use or have used one of these combinations.”

James W. Wagner, Emory University President said the relationship around QEDDI would be mutually beneficial.

“This initiative builds on the established goodwill between our two institutions. Emory and UQ share a common desire to translate our research efforts into positive global transformation, and this collaboration between EIDD, DRIVE and UniQuest will help serve this vision," he said.

"Given their focus on infectious disease, EIDD and DRIVE will also benefit from UQ’s expertise. Our ultimate goal is to develop effective drugs for challenging diseases with global impact.”

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said with ongoing support, QEDDI’s drug discovery capability could be offered as a service to other institutions, on a project-by-project basis.

“This would prevent unnecessary duplication of resources and infrastructure, while providing Queensland with the ability to leverage expertise and world class capabilities to translate local biomedical research into drug candidates, commercial returns and jobs for Queensland,” Dr Moss said.

The QEDDI advisory board will include Professor Dennis Liotta (Executive Director, EIDD) and Dr George Painter (CEO, DRIVE), with business development commercialization driven by UniQuest.

QEDDI will be physically based at UQ’s bioscience precinct at its St Lucia (Brisbane) campus, beginning in the second half of 2015. This will provide access to the specialised equipment and infrastructure required for drug discovery.

MEDIA: University of Queensland: Senior Communications Officer Katie Rowney, 3365 3439, Katie.Rowney@uq.edu.au

UniQuest Pty Limited: Industry Engagement Senior Director Dr Craig Belcher, +61 407 637 853, c.belcher@uniquest.com.au