Biotech investment delivers boon to WA trial facility
If you’re suffering from advanced stages of cancer the best news your oncologist can deliver, apart from saying you’re winning the battle, is that you’re eligible for a promising new drug trial.
Drug trials offer hope when other treatments have failed.
Fortunately, the biotechnology industry is flourishing, both here and overseas, and new drugs are being trialled at a growing rate.
Australia’s ASX-listed life sciences sector is valued at $100 billion and the global biotechnology market is expected to reach USD 727 billion by 2025, at a growth rate of 7.4%.
Early phase drug trials, where new treatments are tested for the first time in people, grew by 17.2% in Australia from 2012–2015.
This reflects the advantages offered by specialised early phase units in Australia, which have earned a reputation for superior quality assurance.
Australia has a stable and streamlined regulatory environment that offers start-up times that are highly competitive compared with other countries.
WA’s only early phase unit, Linear Clinical Research Ltd, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, is contributing to medical breakthroughs via a technologically focused research facility with 37 beds.
Linear is one of only four such facilities in Australia.
It runs trials for start-up biotech entities and big multinational pharmaceutical. In the past 12 months Linear’s revenue has grown by over 50%. With 85 full time staff, Linear expands, in any one month, to 120–140 on the payroll when more doctors, nurses, lab technicians and IT specialists are needed to run the 24 hour operation.
Linear’s clients have come from 15 countries to date.
However, the USA and China dominate, providing nearly two thirds and one third of revenue respectively.
The USA and China have very active markets in terms of core biotech research.
Their biotech companies grow up around large established pharmaceutical companies.
There’s also significant investment supporting small biotech companies and Linear has invested substantially in attracting both the American and Chinese markets including engaging Mandarin speaking staff, translating materials and running meetings in Mandarin.
At the Australian Export Awards in December, Linear was the only award winner from WA.
Linear capitalises on the incentives offered by the Federal government to attract overseas clients.
The R&D incentive available to all companies in Australia works particularly well in early phase research where almost every activity directly ties to R&D and IP generation.
Early phase clinical trials in Australia are 28% cheaper than the USA before tax incentives, and 60% cheaper after tax incentives.
Companies with a group turnover of less than $20m can set up an Australian subsidiary, fund clinical trials through that subsidiary and receive 43.5% of the full spend back as a cash refund.
Linear’s CEO, Dr Michael Winlo was previously Health Team lead at Palantir Technologies – one of the largest privately held computer software companies in the world and headquartered in Silicon Valley.
He is committed to leveraging the advantages of digital technology and harmonised operational, ethics and governance processes across a group of Australian cancer clinical trial sites so that patients can be linked with potentially life changing treatment trials.
This contributes to Linear being one of the fastest facilities in the world at commencing new trials.
Linear is the first trial centre in Australia to deploy electronic source capture technology, offering clients clinical data which complies with the highest international standards.
Dr Winlo believes WA has more to offer overseas biotech companies.
There are numerous services he says Linear could be selling to overseas clients such as lab tests, assays, particular medical compounding or a process that looks for a biomarker, a signal in the blood that shows whether a certain drug being trialled is working or not.
Many innovative services in WA could, with coordination, be offered as a suite of services to overseas clients.
The benefits for WA come from bolstering a range of support services. Linear already supports one of the largest early phase oncology teams in Australia, employing full time oncology and haematology fellows as well as taking four junior medical officers on three month clinical rotations.
Linear also supports the MACA Ride to Conquer Cancer, the annual major fundraiser that benefits the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, to help boost cancer research dollars.
The money raised supports cancer research in WA, leading to discoveries and trials in Western Australia of new cutting edge treatments, and provides West Australians access to drugs before they are marketed.
Even though getting a drug to market typically takes ten years, Linear, in its eight years of operation, has already been involved in assisting two oncology drugs to be available for cancer patients. Patients on those trials had access to those drugs two years before anyone else.