Tag Archives: biotechnology

Biosensors

Biosensors to shield against deadly epidemics

Featured image above: Macdonald (centre) with colleagues from the Programa de Estudio y Control de Enfermedades Tropicales (PECET) at the Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia

In April 2016, only two months after the World Health Organisation officially declared the Zika virus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, a team of Australian experts in tropical medicine and mosquito-transmitted diseases travelled to Brazil and Colombia. 

Among the delegation, arranged by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, was Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Queensland. The molecular engineer, who also holds an appointment at Columbia University in New York City, has been developing point-of-care biosensors, similar to take-home pregnancy tests, to diagnose diseases. Importantly, these devices can rapidly detect the genomes of multiple diseases simultaneously, keeping costs down for diagnostic testing in areas where lots of diseases are co-occurring.  

With A$130,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she and colleagues in Queensland have been working on a proof-of-concept to test mosquitoes for malaria, dengue and chikungunya. The test will also detect the bacterium Wolbachia. When introduced into Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, this potential control agent has been found to prevent viruses, including dengue and Zika, from being transmitted to people. 

Improving diagnosis during epidemics with biosensors

Biosensors
A/Prof Joanne Macdonald (far right) and colleagues observing vaccine and antidote production facilities at the Institute of Butantan, Sao Paulo (Credit: A/Prof Joanne Macdonald)

In Rio de Janeiro, Macdonald heard from local researchers how diagnostic testing labs were overwhelmed by the Zika virus epidemic. Clinics were only testing pregnant women, she was told, and results were taking up to two weeks to be returned. Furthermore, labs were having difficulty distinguishing between Zika and dengue, which are closely related, she says. 

In this environment, Macdonald’s biosensors could be a game-changer. Apart from reagent substances,  which trigger chemical reactions that ‘amplify’ DNA to detectable levels, the tests only require the most basic of lab equipment: a heating block and centrifuge (a piece of laboratory equipment, driven by a motor that spins liquid samples at high speed). This means tests can be easily performed in a doctor’s clinic or hospital with results returned inside an hour. 

“The scientists in Colombia and Brazil wanted the technology right then and there because there was such a dire need with the Zika outbreak,” she says. 

Since the trip, Macdonald has begun working on a test to specifically detect the genetic signature of the Zika virus, eliminating the potential for inconclusive results. Having already developed tests to detect Ebola, Japanese encephalitis, West Nile virus, and Hendra virus, which has killed nearly 100 horses in Australia over the last 23 years, Macdonald is confident it’s within reach.   

In a world where deadly disease vectors are increasingly mobile thanks to global transportation networks, Macdonald’s biosensors could become an important line of defence for future epidemics.  

“If we can provide solutions that allow testing to be done at the point-of-care, rather than in a central lab, that would be a big help,” Macdonald says. 

Macdonald has founded a startup called BioCifer to hold the intellectual property rights and commercialise the various technologies, and is currently working with USC to access the relevant intellectual property. With keen investors already in place, she’s hopeful a diagnostic product – initially for use in veterinary clinics and for research-only purposes – could be just two years away.   

Rapid detection vital to saving lives

Reproducing the detection sensitivity of state-of-the-art labs in a cost-effective, portable device is the ultimate goal of Macdonald’s research, and though it may be a decade away, she is making headway. In December 2015, she and her then PhD student Jia Li reported a world-first milestone in the journal Lab on a Chip, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. 

They had developed a handheld, pregnancy test-style biosensor, which could detect up to seven different analytes, or theoretical diseases. What’s even more innovative is how the device notifies the end-user of the result: if DNA from a certain disease is detected it will light-up patterns of corresponding molecules or dots, like pixels on a computer screen. 

Inspired by the seven segment displays on digital watches, the dots are arranged to resemble the numbers 0 through 9. It’s the first time a numeric display like this has ever been demonstrated on a paper-based biosensor, known as a lateral flow device, and amazingly, it requires no external power source.

The biosensor “is powered entirely by molecules,” says Macdonald. “We are borrowing from computing, but using molecules instead of computer bits.” 

Programmed molecules play strategy games and make autonomous decisions

In 2006, while at Columbia University full-time, Macdonald and her colleagues built a computer out of DNA molecules. They programmed the DNA, modifying it to respond to stimulus, in order to play the strategy game tic-tac-toe interactively against a human. 

In the future, programmed molecules could be used to develop biological machines that operate inside the body, releasing drugs or insulin autonomously, on demand – something her US-based colleagues are working toward. Macdonald, is harnessing the capability of this technology to more rapidly detect deadly diseases. 

By embedding computing principles in molecules “we can decide whether they will turn on or off depending on the presence of other molecules around them,” she says. “So it’s like a chemical reaction based on logic, the molecules can make decisions on their own without any external inputs. And we pre-program them to do this.” This is how the dots in the biosensor know to light up. 

Biosensors
Macdonald inside a laboratory at the Instituto Colombiano de Medicina Tropical, Medellin, Colombia (Colombian Tropical Medicine Institute)(Credit: A/Prof Joanne Macdonald)

Catching the microbiology bug

A rare illness in high school called coxsackievirus, which affected Macdonald’s heart muscles and prevented her from participating in sport, helped spur a lifelong fascination with disease. After she recovered, her interest blossomed at the University of Queensland. While there she majored in biochemistry and microbiology, and later completed a PhD investigating the West Nile virus under the supervision of immunoassay expert Professor Roy A. Hall, who she is still collaborating with.

Macdonald went on to spend 10 years at Columbia University, first in the lab of  Professor Ian W. Lipkin, an epidemiologist who was the scientific adviser for the Hollywood blockbuster Contagion, and then working with two “humongous scientific minds” in Professors Donald W. Landry and Milan N. Stojanovic. Under their guidance she not only programmed DNA molecules to play tic-tac-toe, but also helped develop a drug that inactivates cocaine, which is now being trialled as a treatment for overdoses. 

Back in Australia since 2012 and focused primarily on rapid disease detection, Macdonald is thinking about the next big question as point-of-care and biosensor technologies advance: “Can we actually predict epidemics before they start?” 

In the future, she wants her biosensors to effectively act as shields, used pre-emptively by aid agencies and community members to screen their surroundings, including potential hosts of infectious diseases such as bats, monkeys and mosquitoes, before outbreaks occur. She hopes it might empower communities, enabling them to take precautions before they get sick, and ultimately save lives. 

– Myles Gough

This article on biosensors was first published by Australia Unlimited on 19 January 2017. Read the original article here.

bioclay

BioClay to create healthier food futures

A University of Queensland (UQ) team has made a discovery called ‘BioClay’ that could help conquer the greatest threat to global food security – pests and diseases in plants.

Research leader Professor Neena Mitter says BioClay – an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemicals and pesticides – could be a game-changer for crop protection.

“In agriculture, the need for new control agents grows each year, driven by demand for greater production, the effects of climate change, community and regulatory demands, and toxicity and pesticide resistance,” she says.

“Our disruptive research involves a spray of nano-sized degradable clay used to release double-stranded RNA, that protects plants from specific disease-causing pathogens.”

The research, by scientists from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) and UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) is published in Nature Plants.

Mitter says the technology reduces the use of pesticides without altering the genome of the plants.

“Once BioClay is applied, the plant ‘thinks’ it is being attacked by a disease or pest insect and responds by protecting itself from the targeted pest or disease.

“A single spray of BioClay protects the plant and then degrades, reducing the risk to the environment or human health.”

She says BioClay meets consumer demands for sustainable crop protection and residue-free produce.

“The cleaner approach will value-add to the food and agri-business industry, contributing to global food security and to a cleaner, greener image of Queensland.”

AIBN’s Professor Zhiping Xu says BioClay combines nanotechnology and biotechnology.

“It will produce huge benefits for agriculture in the next several decades, and the applications will expand into a much wider field of primary agricultural production,” Professor Xu says.

The project has been supported by a Queensland Government Accelerate Partnership grant and a partnership with Nufarm Limited.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a UQ institute jointly supported by the Queensland Government.

This article was first published by the University of Queensland on 10 January 2017. Read the original article here.

DNA technology

Micro-Swab enables DNA evidence

Featured image above: prototype of the Micro-Swab, a new DNA technology. Credit: Flinders University

The pen-like device is set to help forensic experts extract relatively large amounts of DNA evidence from previously challenging surfaces.

Micro-Swab was developed by researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, and uses fibres soaked in a surfactant to bind to the DNA in fingerprints.

The fibres are attached to a flexible pen-like device, which allows police to obtain genetic material from hard-to-reach surfaces such as gun triggers, ammunition cartridges and the spaces between keys on computer keyboards.

According to a study on its effectiveness published in National Center for Biotechnology Information, the device extracts about 60 per cent more DNA than conventional methods and only takes about 30 seconds to swab, compared with a few hours for current methods.

Micro-Swab lead researcher Professor Adrian Linacre says DNA profiling is essential for building criminal prosecutions. He says the new device will reduce cases of inadmissible evidence.

“Currently only about seven per cent of touch DNA worldwide generates a meaningful profile,” Linacre says.

“That extraction process, even using the best methods, loses about 75 per cent of DNA and if you start off with only enough DNA to start a profile that leaves you with almost nothing.

“It was to the point where police said they no longer bothered trying to test for DNA because it didn’t work. But this is an effective way of building a profile in a single go.”

Linacre says it will not only be effective in obtaining more biological material, it will also reduce the chance of contamination.

The Micro-Swab includes a PCR tube filled with a detergent attached to the head, similar to a cap on a pen.

During extraction, the tube is removed and the fibres rub over the fingerprint, picking up substantial amounts of biological material.

The head is ejected back into the tube using a small piston at the rear of the device and then the tube, which still has residual amounts of the surfactant, is sealed and ready for quantitative PCR.

The standard process for DNA extraction begins with a foam or cotton extraction and takes about two hours before it is taken to the lab.

“We found that if you had the swab moisturised with one per cent Triton-X, a surfactant, that helps encourage the DNA to come off,” Linacre says.

“The downside to this is that you can’t repeat the test but because it is more accurate than doing the normal method, you are far more likely to get something substantial.”

DNA from fingerprints, known as touch DNA, remains the most common type of forensic evidence used in convictions. However, these methods have not been modified in decades and there have been numerous cases of insufficient or false DNA profiling because of inadequate testing or clinical errors.

Linacre says the Micro-Swab will increase the reliability of touch DNA profiling and is also capable of collecting DNA from hair follicles.

He says the device is simple to manufacture and could be 3D printed to increase availability worldwide.

The new DNA technology is expected to be launched in mid-2017.

This article on the new DNA technology Micro-Swab was first published by The Lead on 24 October 2016. Read the original article here.

You might also enjoy:

Is it possible to reverse ageing?

bionic spine

Brain-powered bionic spine

Featured image above: Strentrode. Credit: University of Melbourne

A few years ago, Australian neurology resident Dr Thomas Oxley set out to design a device that uses brain waves to power prosthetic limbs. Today, Oxley’s revolutionary invention is about to enter human trials, giving hope that millions of people paralysed by injury or stroke will soon be able to walk again.

Oxley’s futuristic device – a tiny stent-electrode or ‘stentrode’ –  also promises to predict and halt epileptic seizures and assist people with a range of conditions, from motor neurone and Parkinson’s diseases to compulsive disorders and depression.

In a nutshell, the matchstick-sized gadget will be inserted, without invasive surgery, into a blood vessel next to the brain’s motor cortex. From there it will detect and translate neural activity, such as the intention to walk, and send commands wirelessly to exoskeleton legs.

Detect, translate, transmit and walk. That’s what scientists call brain-machine interface, and it begins with straightforward day surgery to thread the stent up the groin to the brain.

Trials with sheep, published in February 2016 in Nature Biotechnology, revealed that the animals were fine. They were walking and eating within an hour, and had no side effects.

If all goes according to plan following human trials in 2017, Oxley predicts the stentrode could be on the market by the early 2020s.

“We’ve been able to create the world’s first minimally invasive brain recording device that is implanted without high-risk open brain surgery,” says Oxley.

bionic spine
Strentrode diagram. Credit: University of Melbourne

The road to commercialisation

Oxley is in New York to do a two-year fellowship in cerebral angiography at Mount Sinai Hospital, a specialty which employs non-invasive procedures to visualise blood vessels in the brain. It’s a skill directly related to his work in vascular bionics, exploiting the body’s blood vessels and veins for technologically enhanced therapeutic ends.

Remarkably, Oxley co-invented the stentrode while he was a Melbourne University doctoral student, along with MU collaborator Dr Nicholas Opie, a biomechanical engineer.

In 2012 the pair co-founded a startup company called SmartStent Pty Ltd  to refine and prepare the stentrode for market.

Their goal: commercialise what promises to be one of the world’s most important medical inventions.

After building hundreds of stentrode prototypes, the next step is testing the technology with people. “We’re trying to raise A$4 million for the first human trials at Royal Melbourne Hospital,” Oxley notes. “We’re hoping to begin in late 2017.”

Given the life-changing and commercial potential of the stentrode, it’s little wonder that SmartStent moved to Silicon Valley in April 2016. There, Oxley, Opie and cardiologist Rahul Sharma, with Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles, established Synchron Inc. as their new corporate headquarters. SmartStent remains the Australian subsidiary.

Clearly, Oxley is a man on the move. Given his family tree, it was inevitable. While he was born in Melbourne, until age nine Oxley lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where his father Alan, a former diplomat, was Australia’s Ambassador for Trade. Then it was on to New York when his dad became Australian Ambassador to the General Agreement in Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor of the World Trade Organization.

The Oxley family is littered with creative people. Oxley has two older sisters. Harriet is a theatre set and costume designer, and Anna is in banking. His mother Sandra completed a Masters in computing science at Columbia University while Alan was at the GATT.

So where did Oxley’s interest in the brain come from? In his early teens Oxley had developed “a bit of an obsession with the brain and consciousness”.

“Dad was intellectually challenging. I figured it would be a smarter move to become interested in areas he didn’t understand,” Oxley replies.

Solving the mysteries of the brain

Medicine seemed a good choice for a kid keen to reverse engineer the brain to solve the mysteries of human consciousness. So Oxley went off to Monash Medical School in Melbourne, finishing in 2006. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Melbourne’s The Alfred Hospital in 2009.

“Then I took a year off to go travelling,” recalls Oxley, who didn’t begin his neurology residency until 2011. “I was travelling and intellectually exploring.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was on his ‘to visit’ list. DARPA is an arm of the US Department of Defense. Located in Arlington, Virginia, the agency is responsible for developing emerging military technologies, including biotechnology.

“I’d been reading about their prosthetic limb work for a couple of years,” says Oxley, who got in touch with neurologist Colonel Geoffrey Ling, director of DARPA’s Biotechnologies Office.

After an initial chat, Ling was sufficiently impressed to invite his visitor to develop what Oxley claims became a “pretty blue sky, out there” proposal.

The result? Oxley left Virginia with a promise of US$1.3 million and instructions to put a team together to create and test his device.

“After all that excitement, I came home and had to start my neurology residency. It was a steep learning curve,” says Oxley, who had to tread carefully as a junior resident with potentially large research funding coming in.

Fortunately, Oxley’s PhD supervisor and mentor, Professor Terry O’Brien, was Oxley’s academic champion. He helped negotiate the occasionally challenging politics and opened doors to the range of experts Oxley needed to set up the DARPA-inspired Vascular Bionics Laboratory  at Melbourne University. The two men even leveraged DARPA’s investment into over A$4 million, with grants from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and other Australian bodies.

Oxley completed his residency in 2013, and submitted his doctorate in February 2016. But the rest isn’t history. There’s a stentrode to trial and commercialise. An invention which O’Brien calls the ‘Holy Grail’ of bionics.

– Leigh Dayton

This article was first published by Australian Unlimited on 02 May 2016. Read the original article here.

Australian life science

Innovation in life sciences

The community of Australian life science innovators are clever, focused and driven. Yet many fail to achieve their commercial goals. Sometimes this because of the science – which is not yet sufficiently developed for the commercial path.

Sometimes it is inexperienced management or governance. But usually, the key barrier is access to capital. Australia has talent and good ideas aplenty, but our small economy and lack of risk capital produces challenges not seen in bigger economies, like the USA. “Yes,” I hear you saying.

What about other smaller nations? It is true that some Scandinavian countries and Israel perform very well. But when the culture, government structures, location and many other factors are taken into account, the comparisons with Australia – although very useful– are not equivalent.

In order to optimise our performance and deliver both social and economic benefits, the current conversation at the Federal level is well directed. We need an approach that is system-oriented; that considers the international exemplars and how they can be applied in the Australian context, and pays attention to capital access.


“The strength of biotechnology for our economic future is clear, but to realise its vast potential will take radically new thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude.”


When the Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF) was announced as part of the Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Sciences Agenda (NISA) in December 2015, it was welcomed by AusBiotech as a game-changing package that will transform Australia’s ability to commercialise.

The biotechnology and medical technology sectors are particularly excited by the ability of the program’s investment to be a multiplier and make available much-needed capital to translate our research from universities and medical research institutes into products and services – including medical therapies and cures, medical devices, digital heath solutions, diagnostics and vaccines.

Fund manager, GBS Ventures, which specialises in the life sciences has invested $400 million in 30 companies in recent years and reports it has attracted $5 in private money for every $1 of public money invested.

So far as this can be extrapolated to the new fund, the BTF could be the catalyst for over $2.5 billion to flow into the sector.

The BTF is envisaged as a for-profit investment program of $250 million that is to be matched by an additional $250 million from private investors, so creating a $500 million capital pool available for commercialisation of biotech and medtech projects.

Funding would be engaged, inter alia, before and during clinical trials and product registration stages. The investments by the BTF and its private co-investors are likely to fall in the range of $5 million to $20 million per project.

This is great news for a cash-starved sector.

The strength of biotechnology for our economic future is clear, but to realise its vast potential will take radically new thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude. How we make and fund these new technologies by attracting capital is key.

AusBiotech is pleased to see the Government has been listening to calls for a focus on translation.

Australian life science companies attracted almost $2 billion in deals over the last 18 months, which illustrates that the sector is attractive to investors and demonstrates a good pool of quality technology, talent and opportunity that the BTF will now exploit. Finance from the BTF, along with the R&D Tax Incentive scheme is a powerful, one-two punch that will make a material difference to success in life sciences.

Dr Anna Lavelle

Chief Executive Officer, AusBiotech

Read next: Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT on Overcoming academic barriers to innovation.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

Excellence in Innovation Awards

Top 25 R&D Spin-off Awards

Featured image above: Top 25 winners accepting their awards with Refraction Media‘s CEO, Karen Taylor. Left to right: executives from iCetana, Refraction Media, Vaxxas, Fibrotech Therapeutics and SmartCap Technologies. Credit: Dave Dwyer Video Production and Photography

The Cooperative Research Centres Association (CRCA) presented the Top 25 R&D Spin-off Awards last week at their annual conference, The Business of Innovation. The awards honoured the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies – a list of Australian businesses that have successfully moved their R&D from the lab to the marketplace.

The Top 25 companies were compiled by Refraction Media and supported by data from Thomson ReutersThey were judged by a panel comprising of: Dr Peter Riddles, biotechnology expert and director on many start-up enterprises; Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech; and Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centres Association.

For each company, the panel considered total market value, annual turnover, patents awarded and cited, funding and investment, growth year-on-year, social value, overseas expansion and major partnerships.

spin-off start-ups

Top 25 insights: spin-off start-ups

Seven leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: What insights can you share with other R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia?


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

Fill a market need and lead that market; don’t fill a product gap and complicate your market with a technology push.

It doesn’t matter how technical your product or service is, it needs to be easily explained and have a story that resonates for it to be successful in any market, let alone overseas markets.

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

A few words of wisdom.

1. Make sure there is a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company.

2. The actual invention is only the trigger to start a company – you are establishing a company that will need to innovate on an ongoing basis if it wants to be successful. Make sure that innovation capability and desire exists and thrives in the spin-off.

3. Identify competent board and management capability to direct the business and generate revenue for the company. Most often the management capability is not the same people who carried out the research, but sometimes it can be. Without the right people running the show, the spin-off will not be successful. 

4. Make sure you have sufficient funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream, and ideally flexible funding arrangements. Unexpected things will happen and you need capability to accommodate those changes.

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“Most start-ups are focused on development plans that contain binary events and marginal financing. This makes them vulnerable to unforeseen delays and additional development steps that require additional funding.

I believe that we should be looking to generate portfolios of innovation under experienced management teams that give our projects the best chance of success – and adequate funding to reach proof of concept in whatever market we are targeting – but at the same time help to spread risk.

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“Ensuring a strong board, CEO, and a quality management team will be critical to success. The availability of funds for programs is an often-discussed barrier to rapid progress. Underfunded companies and poorly thought-out product concepts or technologies are more likely to fail early.

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“1. For biotechnology R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia, major hurdles are the dearth of seed capital as well as access to large follow-on venture funds that are needed to build successful biotechnology companies.

2. There is a mismatch between the 10-year life span of a venture capital fund in Australia and the 15+ years needed to translate research findings into a novel drug or biologic product for improving human health. 

3. Hence, these systemic issues are major impediments to building successful biotechnology companies in Australia and these issues need to be addressed.”

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


ADMEDUS

Start-up companies may consider moving overseas, especially if the Government stops or reduces the R&D tax rebates and doesn’t establish some innovation stimulus packages.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


REDFLOW

Nothing ever goes 100% smoothly – perseverance is a prerequisite.

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer

Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or for further insights from the Top 25 leaders, read their interviews on attracting venture capital, learning from overseas marketsgetting past the valley of death and overcoming major start-up challenges.

Top 25 leaders: Darren Kelly

Top 25 leaders: Darren Kelly

R&D company Fibrotech Therapeutics has the goal of treating fibrosis, which results from persistent tissue damage and leads to organ failure in more than 45% of diseases. Fibrotech develops orally active anti-fibrotic inhibitors designed to treat underlying pathological fibrosis in kidney and heart failure.

Kelly co-founded Fibrotech with Associate Professor Spencer Williams from the Bio21 Institute, and Dr Henry Krum and Professor Richard Gilbert from the University of Melbourne.

Their goal was to take compounds through early safety studies in animals and humans, before selling on to a pharmaceutical company. They designed compounds off the structure of tranilast, an anti-fibrotic compound, reducing its toxicity and increasing its potential.

Fibrotech was sold to global specialty biopharmaceutical company Shire in 2014 for an upfront US$75 million and further milestone payments of US$482.5 million.

In May 2015, Kelly launched OccuRx to develop drugs to treat ophthalmic disorders associated with retinal fibrosis and inflammation, and aims to take them to Phase 2 clinical trials. “We licensed the technology to administer anti-fibrotics to people with eye disease and fibrosis.”

Fibrotech Therapeutics tops the Top 25 Science Meets Business list of Australia’s most successful R&D companies.

“Key drivers to any biotechnology startup are passion and tenacity, and the desire to make a difference,” says Kelly.

Click here to read the full list of Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or click here for Top 25 insights into attracting venture capital.

Biomedical fund to bridge valley of death

Details on the delivery of a $500 million biomedical fund, the first cab off the rank for the National innovation and Science Agenda, were discussed Monday 8 Feb at the AusBiotech Biomedical Fund briefing in Sydney and Melbourne.

The Biomedical Translation Fund was announced on December 7 2015. It allocates $250 million of the funds that were previously part of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to help bring Australian R&D in life sciences to commercial outcomes.

A team of fund managers will ensure the government’s investment is matched dollar for dollar by private investment, and the MRFF is expected to be fully funded once more from 2018-19. The government and private investment hope to bring in a revenue base “in the billions” in the next few years, according to Bill Ferris, the Chair of Innovation and Science Australia.

Plus the pool of money available to help Australia’s biotech industry to navigate the two ‘valleys of death’ – stages of research development and clinical trains that have stonewalled innovation in Australia – could be much greater, says Brigette Smith, Managing Partner of GBS Venture Partners.

“This is potentially a $2.5 billion investment in Australian technology,” she says, adding that traditionally every $1 equity from Australian investment attracted $5 from international partners.

“The absence of funds has been soul destroying” says Julie Phillips, Chair of AusBiotech and CEO of Australian biopharmeceutical company BioDiem.

Biomedical fund was the missing piece

Bill Ferris was instrumental in calling for the fund through the Government’s McKeon Review – Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research – Better Health through Research in 2013. He told the briefing this morning that there has been “lots of R and negligible D’ in terms of Australian Research & Development.

Ferris says the two valleys of death occur at preclinical phase (Death Valley 1) where a lack of funding inhibits development, and at advanced preclinical Phase I and Phase II in-human trials (Death Valley 2). The fund will “encourage people to give it a go at Death Valley 1 and bridge Death Valley 2” he says.

“It will support Australian technology to remain in Australia for longer, boost nano-engineering and advanced manufacturing and improve Australia’s health outcomes in the medium- to long-term,” he adds.

Details of the fund were released at the event today, in both Sydney and Melbourne. The fund will be delivered through several fund as yet un-named fund managers, with $50-$125 million of taxpayer’s money each, who will then seek similar private investment.

The funds will be delivered to companies with strong Australian input with the aim of creating jobs and pushing through innovation. The find will operate over an average of 7 and maximum of 15 years.

“This $500 million initiative will fuel an exciting development for biotech, med tech and venture capitalism,” says Ferris, who is also Co-Chairman and Co-founding partner of CHAMP Private Equity.

“It will reduce the innovation death rate and reduce the need for our innovation to be carried offshore.”

 Heather Catchpole

From science fiction to reality: the dawn of the biofabricator

 

“We can rebuild him. We have the technology.”
– The Six Million Dollar Man, 1973

Science is catching up to science fiction. Last year a paralysed man walked again after cell treatment bridged a gap in his spinal cord. Dozens of people have had bionic eyes implanted, and it may also be possible to augment them to see into the infra-red or ultra-violet. Amputees can control bionic limb implant with thoughts alone.

Meanwhile, we are well on the road to printing body parts.

We are witnessing a reshaping of the clinical landscape wrought by the tools of technology. The transition is giving rise to a new breed of engineer, one trained to bridge the gap between engineering on one side and biology on the other.

Enter the “biofabricator”. This is a role that melds technical skills in materials, mechatronics and biology with the clinical sciences.


21st century career

If you need a new body part, it’s the role of the biofabricator to build it for you. The concepts are new, the technology is groundbreaking. And the job description? It’s still being written.

It is a vocation that’s already taking off in the US though. In 2012, Forbes rated biomedical engineering (equivalent to biofabricator) number one on its list of the 15 most valuable college majors. The following year, CNN and payscale.com called it the “best job in America”.

These conclusions were based on things like salary, job satisfaction and job prospects, with the US Bureau of Labour Statistics projecting a massive growth in the number of biomedical engineering jobs over the next ten years.

Meanwhile, Australia is blazing its own trail. As the birthplace of the multi-channel Cochlear implant, Australia already boasts a worldwide reputation in biomedical implants. Recent clinical breakthroughs with an implanted titanium heel and jawbone reinforce Australia’s status as a leader in the field.

The Cochlear implant has brought hearing to many people. Dick Sijtsma/Flickr, CC BY-NC
The Cochlear implant has brought hearing to many people. Dick Sijtsma/Flickr, CC BY-NC

I’ve recently helped establish the world’s first international Masters courses for biofabrication, ready to arm the next generation of biofabricators with the diverse array of skills needed to 3D print parts for bodies.

These skills go beyond the technical; the job also requires the ability to communicate with regulators and work alongside clinicians. The emerging industry is challenging existing business models.


Life as a biofabricator

Day to day, the biofabricator is a vital cog in the research machine. They work with clinicians to create a solution to clinical needs, and with biologists, materials and mechatronic engineers to deliver them.

Biofabricators are naturally versatile. They are able to discuss clinical needs pre-dawn, device physics with an electrical engineer in the morning, stem cell differentiation with a biologist in the afternoon and a potential financier in the evening. Not to mention remaining conscious of regulatory matters and social engagement.

Our research at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) is only made possible through the work of a talented team of biofabricators. They help with the conduits we are building to regrow severed nerves, to the electrical implant designed to sense an imminent epileptic seizure and stop it before it occurs, to the 3D printed cartilage and bone implants fashioned to be a perfect fit at the site of injury.

As the interdisciplinary network takes shape, we see more applications every week. Researchers have only scratched the surface of what is possible for wearable or implanted sensors to keep tabs on an outpatient’s vitals and beam them back to the doctor.

Meanwhile, stem cell technology is developing rapidly. Developing the cells into tissues and organs will require prearrangement of cells in appropriate 3D environments and custom designed bioreactors mimicking the dynamic environment inside the body.

Imagine the ability to arrange stem cells in 3D surrounded by other supporting cells and with growth factors distributed with exquisite precision throughout the structure, and to systematically probe the effect of those arrangements on biological processes. Well, it can already be done.

Those versed in 3D bioprinting will enable these fundamental explorations.


Future visions

Besides academic research, biofabricators will also be invaluable to medical device companies in designing new products and treatments. Those engineers with an entrepreneurial spark will look to start spin-out companies of their own. The more traditional manufacturing business model will not cut it.

As 3D printing evolves, it is becoming obvious that we will require dedicated printing systems for particular clinical applications. The printer in the surgery for cartilage regeneration will be specifically engineered for the task at hand, with only critical variables built into a robust and reliable machine.

The 1970s TV show, Six Million Dollar Man, excited imaginations, but science is rapidly catching up to science fiction. Joe Haupt/Flickr, CC BY-SA
The 1970s TV show, Six Million Dollar Man, excited imaginations, but science is rapidly catching up to science fiction. Joe Haupt/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Appropriately trained individuals will also find roles in the public service, ideally in regulatory bodies or community engagement.

For this job of tomorrow, we must train today and new opportunities are emerging biofab-masters-degree. We must cut across the traditional academic boundaries that slow down such advances. We must engage with the community of traditional manufacturers that have skills that can be built upon for next generation industries.

Australia is also well placed to capitalise on these emerging industries. We have a traditional manufacturing sector that is currently in flux, an extensive advanced materials knowledge base built over decades, a dynamic additive fabrication skills base and a growing alternative business model environment.

– Gordon Wallace & Cathal D. O’Connell

This article was first published by The Conversation on 31 August 2015. Read the original article here.