Tag Archives: industry

Driverless car trials in South Australia

A major European carmaker will conduct the first on-road trials of driverless cars in the Southern Hemisphere in South Australia in November.

The testing by Volvo will be held in conjunction with an international conference on driverless cars in Adelaide.

Volvo will test the same vehicle being used in their “Drive Me” project in Sweden.

South Australia legalized the use of driverless cars on its roads earlier this year.

The testing is part of independent road research agency ARRB’s Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative.

ARRB Managing Director Gerard Walton said that automated vehicles are a short-term reality that Australia needs to be prepared for.

“The South Australian Government has been quick to recognise this,” he said.

“ARRB will establish how driverless technology needs to be manufactured and introduced for uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage,” said Waldon.

Volvo’s testing will be undertaken in conjunction with Flinders University, Carnegie Mellon University, the RAA and Cohda Wireless.

The Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill said the technology promises to not only improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, but also to provide a real opportunity for South Australia to become a key player in the emerging driverless vehicle industry.

“This trial presents a fantastic opportunity for South Australia to take a lead nationally and internationally in the development of this new technology and open up new opportunities for our economy,” he said.

The driverless car trials will take place on an expressway south of the capital city of Adelaide on 7–8 November 2015.

Multiple vehicles will conduct manoeuvres such as overtaking, lane changing, emergency braking and the use of on and off ramps.

The International Driverless Cars Conference will be hosted at the Adelaide Convention Centre and Tonsley precinct on 5–6 November 2015.

This article was first published by The Lead on 21 July 2015. Read the original article here.

Multi-million-dollar deal brings UQ pain drug closer to reality

A chronic pain treatment discovered at The University of Queensland is a step closer to clinical use, with a global pharmaceutical giant acquiring the Australian-founded company developing the drug.

Spinifex Pharmaceuticals has been acquired by Novartis International AG for an upfront cash payment of $US200 million (about $A260 million), plus undisclosed clinical development and regulatory milestone payments.

Spinifex is a biopharmaceutical company founded by UQ commercialisation arm UniQuest.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj welcomed the acquisition and congratulated those involved.

“This is one of the largest Australian biotech deals in history, and is a stunning outcome for the company, the researchers and the investors,” Professor Høj said.

“Spinifex builds on the unprecedented commercial translation achievements of UQ, which includes the world’s first cancer vaccine, Gardasil.

“It is a shining example of UQ’s determination to take research from excellence to what I call ‘excellence plus’, developing a product that has potential to improve the lives of people around the world.”

Spinifex is developing the drug candidate EMA401, an oral treatment for chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain (a type of nerve pain), without central nervous system side effects.

The technology is based on a discovery by UQ’s Professor Maree Smith.

Professor Smith said the acquisition brought EMA401 a step closer to the people who needed it most.

“Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition, most commonly associated with cancer chemotherapy, post-herpetic neuralgia (a painful condition that can follow shingles), diabetes, peripheral nerve injury and osteoarthritis.

“It’s wonderful to see this deal eventuate, bringing a much-needed treatment option a little closer to reality for the millions of pain sufferers around the world,” Professor Smith said.

UQ pain researcher Professor Maree Smith
UQ pain researcher Professor Maree Smith

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said Dr Smith’s work was at the cutting edge of pain research.

“Her achievements and expertise have contributed to the formation of the recently-launched Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative (QEDDI),” Dr Moss said.

QEDDI, a collaboration between UQ and Emory University in the US, will see the development of drugs to combat health issues including cancer, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and infectious diseases.

EMA401 is a novel angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist being developed as a potential first-in-class oral treatment.

Professor Smith and UQ’s Dr Bruce Wyse’s research identified AT2 receptor antagonists as inhibitors of neuropathic and inflammatory pain in preclinical models.

Spinifex is supported by a syndicate of investors, including UniQuest, NovoVentures (Novo A/S), Canaan Partners, GBS Venture Partners, Brandon Capital Partners and UniSeed (a venture fund operating at the Universities of Melbourne, Queensland and New South Wales).

Transforming innovation in Australia

When it comes to fostering innovation and the commercialisation of world class research, there is something the United States has that we lack. We ought to learn from the successes of the US in this area, and emulate one program they have pioneered to give our own innovative industries a much needed kickstart.

For dozens of Australian researchers returning to the country after working in the US, the lack of an equivalent to the US’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) scheme here reflects a major hole in our innovation ecosystem.

Charles Wessner, Professor at Georgetown University and Director of the Global Innovation Policy unit, says the SBIR scheme triggered a fundamental shift in attitudes in American universities when it was introduced in 1982.

According to Wessner, before SBIR, the Dean of a faculty would ask young academics how many publications were going to come out of their latest piece of research.

Thirty years on, the Dean is now asking whether the research can be converted into a product or service, and whether they should spin it out of the university to access SBIR funding. It has been a profound change of mindset, says Wessner.


Simple but effective

The SBIR scheme is a fairly simple design that hasn’t changed much since its introduction. US government agencies, which undertake more than US$100 million worth of R&D outside the agency, are required to allocate 2.8% of their R&D budget to these programs. Currently, eleven federal agencies participate in the program.

Each agency takes an active role in calling for R&D – “solicitations” is the term used in the US, and with a completely straight face – for areas of concern to them. For example, the US Department of Agriculture this year is calling for projects in 10 areas. They are unsurprising fields, like “aquaculture” and “biofuels and biobased products”, but with a bit more specificity under them.

Any small business (1–500 employees) can then bid to undertake projects against those solicitations. The US Department of Agriculture issues solicitations once a year, receives about 500 applications for “Phase 1” projects (those up to US$100,000 over up to eight months) and funds about 15–20% of them. If a project is success at Phase 1, they can apply for a Phase II award, which can be up to US$500,000 over two years. Some departments have further, larger Phase III stages, although the USDA doesn’t.

For the Department of Defense (DoD), 2.8% of its extramural R&D spend is a very large amount of money indeed. Moreover, if the Department of Defense is soliciting proposals for new work, it is very likely it’ll become the first customer of that small business if the project is successful.

The DoD already has a stake in the product, and is thinking about how it might work in its own ecosystem. Given the extreme complexity of military procurement procedures, having the DoD already staked in your product is a major advantage to a new company.

Carry on Phase II and then Phase III funding, sometimes in multiple series, are available in much larger amounts from the bigger agencies, and can run to tens of millions of dollars.

Don’t imagine that means all SBIR projects are short-term or lack scientific challenges. The US Navy uses about 1.4 billion tonnes of fuel annually, and the head of its energy program, Captain Jim Goudreau, said climate change transcends politics when you are talking about that much fuel.

He pointed out that the US military is already affected by climate change in many practical ways, like having less available live fire practice days each year in California. And as he said at the TechConnect World audience in Washington last week, the Navy is contracting for materiel to be delivered in 2040, which needs to be effective into the 2070s and 2080s. So it needs to cope with a changing climate.


Pull and push

At the TechConnect meeting in Washington last week, there were literally dozens of US federal groups talking to the science and business community about their innovation needs. Big departments, like defence and energy, are represented by many specialised teams seeking out companies to work for them.

It is “customer pull” in its rawest form. The science community is here in big numbers offering new technologies to the market. When “science push” and “customer pull” mix, then the chances of successful innovation rise to a new level.

At the same time in Philadelphia, the gigantic annual biotechnology conference, BIO, was underway with more than 15,000 participants from across the globe. The two big US science funding agencies – the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were there in force helping their SBIR companies meet up with big pharma and other collaborators to bring technologies to market.

It’s like a science festival writ large, but also in extreme detail, as companies search for new opportunities from the vast American research community.


Could it work in Australia?

The recent joint paper from Ian Macfarlane and Christopher Pyne, “Boosting Commercialisation of Research”, floated the idea that Australia needs an “SBIR-like” scheme. The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has often pointed out that the lack of such a scheme is a gaping hole in the Australian innovation ecosystem.

We do have some “customer pull” oriented schemes, though. The Rural R&D Corporations definitely fall into this category, as do many of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs).

The government’s response to the recent “Miles Review” of the CRC program was to push CRCs to be even more industry-led.

Industry leadership is the mantra for the new Industry Growth Centres, but they are not going to be funding very much research. The ARC’s Linkage Projects and the newer Industrial Transformation Training Centres as well as the NHMRC’s Partnership Centres are each attempts to have push more of the nation’s R&D investment into more market-facing efforts.

But none of these schemes are aimed at boosting innovation from small businesses. Or at least, not exclusively so. They are often encouraged to do so, and make sporadic attempts to improve their small business engagement, but it is clearly a weak spot in the Australian innovation context.

Small businesses that are trying to expand with innovative technologies constantly struggle to raise funds at early stages of development.


Bridging the gap

SBIR is not of itself a scheme for collaboration; the small businesses involved can undertake all the R&D themselves. But the experience in the US is that SBIR fosters collaboration as high technology start-ups seek to source expertise from universities and other research agencies.

Universities immediately increased their rate of spinning out companies on implementation of the scheme in 1982. The SBIR funding attracts further seed and venture capital funding, bridging that “valley of death” between early research funding and the business becoming self-sustaining.

Ultimately, many of the small businesses get bought out by large companies, particularly in the defense and pharmaceutical areas, where massive ongoing investment is needed to introduce new products.

There’s no doubt that an SBIR scheme would fill a major innovation gap in Australia, and no doubt we could make the necessary administrative arrangements. But for an SBIR scheme to truly succeed in Australia, there would be a few hurdles that I’d suggest must be overcome before we spent the first dollar. I call these the “Fair Dinkumness” tests to ensure an Australian flavour.


Fair Dinkumness test 1

Would there be true political support?

Unless a scheme enjoyed bipartisan support, there would be no point in introducing one. With one of the shortest electoral cycles in the world, Australia is at a major disadvantage in terms of stable policy in relation to innovation.

If the political support is there, then an SBIR scheme would need a significant investment of new money. Scrounging money off another under-funded program would simply be setting both up to fail. It takes some time for industry to become confident with new schemes and start to invest in a meaningful way. We’d need a real commitment.


Fair Dinkumness test 2

Would there be true bureaucratic support?

SBIR in the US works because it is a procurement scheme as well as an R&D scheme. The bureaucracy would need to seriously commit to using the scheme to improve its own departmental knowledge or services.

That means a solicited report to the Department of Environment on management of an endangered species would need to be implemented, not just sent to the library. That means the Army would need to buy the better boots from an Australian small business.

This is perhaps a bigger mindset change than either the politicians or the business community, and would need to be monitored closely, even if there was initial high level support.

For a small country such as Australia, it is often easiest to take the pathway of least risk – so Senate Estimates would need to cut bureaucrats some slack for backing Australian inventiveness too.


Fair Dinkumness test 3

Would Australian business truly back it?

If small businesses are formed just to access SBIR money, and want to survive on providing some research to government, then we are no better off. If peak industry bodies view the money as simply an entitlement for their members, then nothing new will happen.

The whole point of giving a big innovative boost to small businesses is to turn them into high-growth businesses. Existing bigger businesses would need to accept that they won’t be able to access the scheme, and they might even be faced with competition from those that do become successful innovators. An SBIR scheme by its very nature involves giving a leg-up to the new players in town, and the incumbent players need to accept that situation.

If the federal government did undertake to create an SBIR-like scheme in Australia, it would easily be the biggest reform of the innovation ecosystem in the country since the Hawke government’s raft of “Clever Country” policies.

It may not be the size of the Medical Research Future Fund as that scheme grows, but it is significantly more complex to implement. There is no doubt the government wants business and research agencies to come together much more closely. An SBIR scheme would be a massive step in that direction.

Tony Peacock

This article was first published by The Conversation on 25 June, 2015. Read the original article here.

Cell manufacturing links research and industry

CEO of the Cell Therapy Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CTM CRC) Dr Sherry Kothari said it puts promise in what she believes is the future of medicine.

“One of the biggest advantages that cell therapy holds is that it has the potential to cure. So with drugs and pharmaceuticals you tend to manage and treat conditions but you can’t generally cure them,” Kothari said.

“So the stem cell will go into the wound and it will dampen down any immune response and any inflammatory response to try and get the wound into a state where the normal skin cells can take over the healing process.”

CRC Partner the University of South Australia has a team currently working on a patch that will help cure chronic wounds.

Cell TherapyProject Leader Dr Louise Smith said chronic wounds affect sufferers for years, and sometimes decades.

“One of the ways we’re looking at healing it is by delivering stem cells to the wound to try and help it heal,” Smith said.

“So the stem cell will go into the wound and it will dampen down any immune response and any inflammatory response to try and get the wound into a state where the normal skin cells can take over the healing process.”

img - industries_health_150305_Cell Therapy_banner-2
The CTM CRC.

Chronic wounds are a burden to patients and healthcare systems as they are expensive and persistent, and without treatment can lead to extreme procedures such as amputation.

Around 450 000 Australians are affected by chronic wounds, while the US government spends an estimated $25 billion per year on treatments.

Smith said the project would not have worked without the CRC pulling everything together.

“We wouldn’t have access to the specific cells, we wouldn’t have access to the companies that we’re working with, and we wouldn’t have access to the clinicians and the cleanroom facilities,” she said.

The CTM CRC takes a promising cell therapy, finds an appropriate industry partner and facilitates the therapy through the manufacturing process until it’s ready for use in patients.

Kothari said academic researchers often struggle to source funding for their projects without industry partner collaboration.

“It’s what I and many others describe as the valley of death,” Dr Kothari said.

“You’ve got your academic research which stops at a certain point and then you’ve got the big companies, but often that research is still too early for them to invest in.

Chair of the CRC’s board Dr Leanna Read said bringing down costs is crucial to the future of medicine.

“There’s always a pressure on medicine because the health system is getting more and more expensive,” Dr Read said.

“If you can bring down the costs of producing the cells you’ll be able to expand opportunities for use in clinical practice because they’ll be affordable in mainstream medicine.”

The Cell Therapy Manufacturing CRC is the only one of its kind in Australia and one in a small handful of facilities around the world.

In an effort to build up a global presence in the growing industry the centre has recently formed collaborations with two cell therapy and regenerative medicine institutions in Canada and the UK.

“We have a lot of intellectual capital and know-how here in Australia and South Australia,” Kothari said.

“What we have here is this critical mass, the expertise, the know-how and the infrastructure, so we’ve got a real chance to make it work, to put South Australia on the world stage when it comes to the development of cell therapies.”

This article was first published in The Lead.