Queensland’s smarts is showing, and how!
It’s been over a decade since the state rolled out its Smart State Strategy – described simply as investing in “people, ideas, and partnerships.” It has zealously stayed the course. Five years ago, it helped University of Queensland lure Oxford University Prof. Michael Kendall back to his native land to continue research on a new way to deliver vaccines via a silicone patch called Nanopatch – a stamp-sized, drug-coated strip that promises to revolutionize healthcare, and make that painful needle prick a thing of the past.
Earlier this month, Kendall’s startup, Vaxxas Pty. Ltd., won a $15 million investment from venture groups led by OneVentures. Other investors include Brandon Capital Partners, the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund and U.S.-based HealthCare Ventures.
“It used to be that after developing a concept here, Queensland innovators would need to go offshore to bring their project to fruition,” said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. “Now Queensland can be the true home of innovation and a new bio tech industry – our State can profit while doing good in the world.”
Brandon Capital Partners Managing Director Dr Stephen Thompson echoed the sentiment.
“In Australia, we invest heavily in our excellent research and development capability but have a relatively poor record of taking those technologies to world markets,” he said.
“The syndicate’s investment in Vaxxas is consistent with its willingness to work with Australia’s leading research institutes, including the AIBN (Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology), to transform this exciting research effort into a commercially useful product. We need to convert the promise of the technology into a reality,” he added.
Vaxxas is the first Queensland company to be funded under the Bio Capital Fund, which has swelled to nearly $250 million, established last year with the help of Health Care Ventures and Eli Lilly, among others. The investment was negotiated in the main by UniQuest Pty Limited, the University of Queensland’s main commercialisation company.
Nanopatch biggest breakthrough in drug-delivery
The Nanopatch is being called the biggest breakthrough in vaccine delivery since the invention of the syringe in 1853. Truly, it has advantages that go way beyond just helping the needle-phobic.
Early-stage testing in animals has showed that a flu vaccine delivered via the Nanopatch was 150 times more effective than the syringe, and may not require the additional adjuvants required to enhance the vaccine’s response. This arises from the fact that the Nanopatch has thousands of small projections that deliver the vaccine to abundant immune cells in the skin, whereas the traditional syringe hits the muscle where there are fewer immune cells.
Even more significantly, the Nanopatch doesn’t require refrigeration, enabling it to be easily transported across vast swathes of the developing world that is in most need of vaccines.
“In Africa about half of vaccines aren’t working properly because of a breakdown in the cold chain,” Kendall said.
The Nanopatch, which has been tested to deliver vaccines for Human Papilloma Virus, Human Simplex Virus (HSV 2), Chikungunya and West Nile Virus, “also offers a way to stop needle-stick injuries during vaccination – which again is a particularly important problem in Africa; with a third of vaccines affected by other complications brought about through cross contamination needle stick injury,” he added.
Kendall has worked on the Nanopatch for the past eight years, starting from the time when he was at Oxford. In 2006, he returned to Australia, accepting the role of professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Queensland. He was awarded a Smart State Fellowship in 2006 – with the government giving $300,000 and UQ a further $960,000. He also has received more than $1.2 million under the Innovation Projects Fund. Kendall’s research also has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.