Perth biotech secures $24m

15/03/2019 - 14:20

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A carefully managed five-year incubation process for new Perth company Respirion Pharmaceuticals has resulted in one of the largest funding deals for Western Australia’s biotech sector.

Perth biotech secures $24m
Barry Clements has been treating cystic fibrosis patients for over 30 years. Gabriel Oliveira

A carefully managed five-year incubation process for new Perth company Respirion Pharmaceuticals has resulted in one of the largest funding deals for Western Australia’s biotech sector.

The Biomedical Translation Fund, which is backed 50:50 by the federal government and the private sector, has committed to invest up to $20 million in Respirion.

This comes shortly after the US-based Cystic Fibrosis Foundation committed up to US$3 million ($A4.2 million) for Respirion’s development program.

Respirion is developing a new therapy for the treatment of the life-threatening disease cystic fibrosis.

Initial clinical trials, in collaboration with the Telethon Kids Institute and the Department of Health, showed a significant improvement in both the efficacy of antibiotics and the lung function of the patients.

Medical specialist Barry Clements developed the technology.

The journey to create a new company to commercialise his work started five years ago when Dr Clements met Brandon Capital Partners’ Kath Giles.

“At that point, all he had was an idea,” Dr Giles said.

Together they secured a number of small grants to fund early development and clinical trials, leading to support from the CF Foundation.

Dr Giles said the foundation was the global leader in the search for a cure for cystic fibrosis and had the largest cystic fibrosis clinical trial network in the world.

She said this would be of immense help to Respirion, but added the company was planning to conduct as much of its drug development and clinical trials in WA as possible.

Respirion is the first WA company to gain backing from the Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF), which has announced 11 investments over the past two years.

The $20 million pledge is also the second largest, beaten only by the $22 million for Melbourne-based Certa Therapeutics.

Brandon Capital was the assigned fund manager responsible for each BTF investment.

Perth-raised biotech executive Matt Callahan, who is currently based in the US, heads Respiron as executive director.

Dr Clements will also be a director, along with Dr Giles and Brandon managing director Stephen Thompson.

The BTF investment is designed to validate the commercial and clinical potential for Respirion’s therapy, kick-start the initial studies and also potentially secure additional financial support for Respirion’s development program.

Dr Clements said persistent lung infections and the inevitable decline in lung function remained urgent unmet needs in cystic fibrosis, which affects more than 70,000 people worldwide.

“My daily experience in treating cystic fibrosis patients for over 30 years at Perth Children’s Hospital led me to the realisation that if we are to improve the reduction in bacterial load, and ultimately the fatal lung damage that occurs as a result of these infections, new approaches are imperative,” he said.

“We’re excited to be working with the MRCF, whose investment will help us make that critical step from research to the eventual clinical use of a potential treatment.”

The key to Respirion’s novel therapy is the combination of the antibiotic Tobramycin with an approved drug to help break down the biofilms that bacteria erect to protect themselves in the lung.

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