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pSivida looks to growth after joint venture deal

FOLLOWING its signing of a joint venture deal in Singapore, pSivida Ltd is aiming to formalise two collaborative relationships in Australia by year’s end.

Through its UK subsidiary pSiMedica Ltd, the junior biotechnology company last week confirmed a joint venture agreement with the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to evaluate the use of the local firm’s BioSilicon technology.

The joint venture company, to be named pSiOncology Pte Ltd, is incorporated in Singapore and represents the first joint venture in which SGH has taken a direct equity position.

pSiOncology will develop cancer brachytherapies using BioSilicon (a nanostructured, porous silicon technology) and pSiMedica’s licensed intellectual property. (Brachytherapy is the ‘short range’ treatment of cancer in situ, through the direct delivery of active agents into cancerous cells.)

pSivida managing director Gavin Rezos said the company had spent a year working on the deal and would invest an initial sum of $S700,000 in pSiOncology.

Mr Rezos said he anticipated additional funds – up to $S5 million – would be forthcoming in the next 12 months from a variety of sources, including Singaporean government grants and private venture capital investments.

At pSiOncology’s inception, pSiMedica will hold about 90 per cent of the joint venture company, but SGH will be able to progressively earn stakes in the joint venture, up to a 25 per cent holding, upon the fulfilment of certain research milestones.

Mr Rezos said Singapore was an attractive centre for pSivida, not only because of its government’s openness to foreign investment, but because its location offered the potential for a large number of cancer patients in the advanced stages of the disease to be used in the brachytherapy trials.

“Liver cancer is a major issue in South-East Asia because of hepatitis A and B, and so if we were to do this trial in Australia or elsewhere, we’d have to compete for patients with other biotech companies,” Mr Rezos said.

“You don’t have to show it’s safe over 20 or 30 years, you have to show it will extend their life for two years or improve their quality of life. That’s why the regulatory process is much, much quicker.”

He said pSivida expected to confirm its involvement in at least two collaborations – not joint ventures – in Australia by the end of this year.

One will be in Perth, and while Mr Rezos would not confirm who the other participants would be, he said the collaboration would bring together a university and a medical facility. The University of WA is the State’s only university with a medical school and therefore appears to be the most likely of the tertiary institutions to be involved.

The other collaboration will be with a hospital in NSW.

In the past year pSivida has formalised a number of collaborative programs for the dev-elopment of BioSilicon in the UK and the US.

“There’s a number of these going on, and the reason we aren’t doing as many joint ventures, but rather collaborations, is that the joint ventures are very valuable but also take management extra time,” Mr Rezos said.

He said the collaborations were expected to develop their own structure and become in-dependent over time, “otherwise we’d be having to employ hundreds of scientists around the world”.

As an example, Mr Rezos said, PsiOncology in Singapore was intended to become a publicly listed company within the next four years, depending on its research success.

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