New CEO aims to grow Perkins subsidiary

18/04/2016 - 12:51


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Young medical entrepreneur Michael Winlo has returned from New York with plans to expand a unique clinical testing business in Nedlands.

DRIVE: Michael Winlo says China and Japan are among Linear’s target growth markets. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Young medical entrepreneur Michael Winlo has returned from New York with plans to expand a unique clinical testing business in Nedlands.

Michael Winlo brings a very commercial mindset, and some unusual achievements, to his new role as chief executive of Linear Clinical Research.

He jointly established startup company Cerulean Medical in 2007, not long after graduating from the University of Western Australia, and raised seed capital from Rob Newman’s venture capital firm, Stone Ridge Ventures.

That was followed by an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and employment with US software firm Palantir Technologies, which was best known for big data analysis in the law enforcement and intelligence fields.

Dr Winlo was part of a team that led Palantir’s move into the health sector, with one of his early achievements being the discovery of a $US22 million insurance fraud.

Like many expats, he has returned to Perth for family reasons, but is aiming to use his international connections in his new role.

Linear Clinical Research is the clinical trials arm of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

It was established six years ago after securing a $9.5 million grant from the Department of Commerce (then known as Industry and Resources), and has grown to have 45 full-time staff.

Unlike most health startups, it very quickly started generating cash flow and has been self-funding ever since.

Its major clients are biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the US, which account for two thirds of its revenue.

It also has clients in Australia and Asia, which is being targeted for growth.

“We’re seeing a lot more interest from China and Japan bringing their studies here,” Dr Winlo said.

“That’s a big focus of ours, to grow in the Asian region, and continue bringing in work from America as well.”

Linear isn’t just a commercial venture – it was established so that local physicians could use novel treatments on their patients.

“The real motivation was first-in-patient trials, so local patients get access to therapies they wouldn’t normally have access to.”

Linear has completed about 120 studies, with about 60 per cent being early-phase first-in-patient trials.

Its other studies use hundreds of healthy volunteers.

Dr Winlo said Australia’s favourable regulatory environment gave Linear a competitive edge.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration places the onus on local clinics, and their ethics committees, to approve trials, whereas in US the Food and Drug Administration needs to grant approval.

“That allows us to get the trial running quicker,” Dr Winlo said.

Australia’s demographic profile was also advantageous.

“They like the data they get from an Australian study,” he said.

“Its high quality, and because the patient population looks the same, they can have greater faith the therapy will work the same in America.

“Our studies are also accepted by the FDA so we can support companies wishing to go to the bigger markets like the US and Europe.”

Dr Winlo said he saw opportunities to work more with local startups.

“It’s something we definitely want to do more of,” he said.

“Clinical trials are an important step on the way to commercialisation.

“We can help with designing the protocols and initiating the study, and deliver it.”

Dr Winlo is also aiming to attract more work from local medical specialists, especially oncologists treating cancer sufferers.

“We want to provide a place where those clinicians can conduct their own trials.”

Dr Winlo said Linear was committed to a $1.6 million renovation of its existing facility in Nedlands and was aiming to expand the number of beds.

“I feel like we’re already at capacity,” he said.

Linear chairman Peter Leedman, who also heads the Perkins Institute, said Dr Winlo had the energy and talent to build on Linear’s successes and ensure it remains a global leader in early-stage clinical trials.


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