Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation has participated in a $32 million funding round for a biotech company focused on preventative treatments for respiratory infections.
Founded last year, ENA Respiratory is developing a nasal spray to activate innate immunity in the nose – the primary site of most respiratory infections – and prevent instances of COVID-19 and other viruses.
ENA says the treatment (INNA-051) directly stimulates a person’s immune defence, which plays a key role in clearing viruses and other pathogens.
It noted a recent animal study undertaken by Public Health England – and published in peer-reviewed journal EBioMedicine – demonstrated the nasal spray reduced COVID-19 viral replication by up to 96 per cent.
ENA said if humans responded in a similar way, the spray could be used to protect people very quickly from infection and lower community transmission.
It will use the financing to advance INNA-051, with the first lot of human safety studies in Australia expected in the coming weeks.
The funding round was jointly led by Mr Forrest's philanthropic business, Minderoo, and Sydney-based Brandon Capital Partners, with co-investment from Australian university venture fund Uniseed.
Co-founder and chief executive Christophe Demaison said the treatment would address the need for complementary approaches to help protect vulnerable people against viruses like COVID-19.
“The financing announced today from the Minderoo Foundation and existing investors will expedite development of INNA-051 with the aim to demonstrate efficacy against COVID-19 in the clinic,” he said.
ENA chairman Chris Smith said safe and convenient anti-viral therapies were needed to win the fight against COVID-19.
“INNA-051 could be incredibly helpful in protecting at-risk populations such as health workers, the elderly and immunocompromised patients against existing and emerging variants,” he said.
“Because INNA-051 is not virus-specific, it could also play a key role beyond fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, in combating seasonal flu or any future respiratory viral outbreaks.”
At the same time, ENA announced Ruth Tal-Singer would join the board of directors.
ENA says Dr Tal-Singer is an internationally recognised healthcare leader and clinical scientist with extensive research and development experience.
Based in the US, she serves as president and chief scientific officer of non-for-profit COPD Foundation, which is developing treatments to improve health outcomes for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis and nontuberculous mycobacterial lung disease.
“Dr Tal-Singer brings nearly 25 years of experience leading the research and development of respiratory therapies, from therapeutic target identification to phases I-IV research and regulatory approvals, as well as collaborations with academic and industry partners,” Dr Demaison said.
“Her significant expertise in research, patient and community support, public education and advocacy will help guide us as we accelerate the development of INNA-051 to address the COVID-19 pandemic and other significant respiratory illnesses.”
Dr Tal-Singer, who has a PhD in molecular biology and microbiology from the University of Pennsylvania, said respiratory viruses affected millions of people each year.
She said ENA’s nasal spray had the potential to change the way COVID-19, influenza, the common cold and other respiratory illnesses were treated.
“I’m thrilled to join the board as the company launches its next stage of clinical research,” Dr Tal-Singer said.