On World Sight Day, judges of the University of Queensland (UQ) Business School’s $100,000 Enterprize competition finals voted resoundingly for an innovation that could control the world’s single largest cause of blindness – cataract, a clouding of the eye’s lens among older populations.
Calpain Therapeutics, an Adelaide startup that has developed a drug that can slow the onset of cataract, won the nation’s richest business plan competition, ahead of four others shortlisted.
Co-founders Dr. Tim Lovell and Prof. Andrew Abell, with team member Dr. Victoria Kopetz, accepted the winner’s cheque on 13 October after a final business pitch to the Enterprize judges at Pitch Day, held at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
The Calpain Therapeutics team is “thrilled to have won such a prestigious competition as Enterprize – especially on what was World Sight Day,” a global initiative to raise public awareness of blindness and vision impairment as major public health issues, said Lovell.
Lovell said the prize money would enable the startup “complete key human lens experiments, the next step before clinical trials,” over the next six months.
Cataracts form when a protein, called calpain, clouds the lens of the eye, slowly impairing vision. The protein is generally activated by ageing but can be triggered by diabetes, eye injury, exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight, long-term use of steroid medication, smoking and heavy drinking. Currently, the only treatment for cataract is to surgically remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a synthetic lens.
Visionary innovation has great potential
Calpain Therepautics’ drug to slow onset of cataract could be either drops or a cream, or both, “that you put in your eyes each night before you go to sleep.”
Prof. Iain Watson, academic dean and head of UQ Business School, congratulated the Calpain Therapeutics team.
“Calpain Therapeutics is pioneering a novel drug with application to the eye health of people around the world,’’ Watson said. “The proposition of the drug is to significantly slow down cataracts on their path to causing blindness. With severe cataracts the leading cause of blindness around the world, the Business School is proud to support such a visionary innovation.”
The UQ Business School had another reason to celebrate. Its MBA program was ranked in the top 50 globally by The Economist magazine. It is one of only two Australian universities named in the top 50. The UQ Business School was ranked 46th, up from 81st last year.
The other Enterprize finalists were:
HaystackHQ, a stealth startup, has devised an online tool for faster and more efficient international patent searches and analysis of complex patent data.
Cloevis has developed a low-cost chemical mix, integrated with dosing optimisation software, to stop corrosion in concrete sewer pipes and prevent associated odours. The startup is based on technologies developed at the Advanced Water Management Centre at the University of Queensland and comes from over a decade’s research sponsored by several Australian water utilities.
AquaHydrex has developed an inexpensive and environment-friendly way to make hydrogen, used widely in industries such as petroleum, chemical, food and steel. Its innovative low-cost fabrication technology uses synthetic calalysts to split water into hydrogen and oxygen; and
Kaggle, an Internet hub, seeks to host innovative global competitions that will help build predictive models from a variety of data. This can be used by several industries including insurance, which, for example, can analyse data to predict fraudulent claims in the future.
The five shortlisted finalists were aided by Leadership and Executive Coach Barry O’Sullivan of the UQ Business School for their final presentations in front of venture capitalists.
The five judges of the contest were:
Stewart Gow, Director, New Ventures Australia Ltd.;
Anne-Marie Birkill, General Partner, OneVentures;
Bruce Scott, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer, NBC Capital;
Bob Christiansen, Founding Manager, Southern Cross Venture Partners; and
Colin Kinner, CEO, i-lab.
Last year’s winner, Southern Innovation, recently signed a worldwide licensing agreement with U.S. firm XIA LLC, which will incorporate the Melbourne company’s accelerated analysis technology into its new FalconX digital pulse processor, the world’s fastest X-ray processor. Runner-up Vaxxas, which is pioneering a needle-free vaccine delivery system called Nanopatch, has attracted $15 million from a consortium of investors as it seeks to revolutionise delivery of preventive healthcare.
Fusion Sport, Codesion (formerly CVSDude) and BakBalls are some other companies that won Enterprize awards and used it as a springboard for success.