Tag Archives: pharmaceuticals

intellectual capital

Thinking long-term: is innovation all digital?

This piece on is an edited transcript of comments on given by Christine Holgate as part of a discussion panel held by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) titled ‘Thinking long-term: can industry seize the innovation opportunity?’ Read the original text here.

So often when people talk about innovation they think it’s some new product, or new technological advancement. For me, innovation can be very broad ranging. It’s about doing things differently inside your organisation.

Personally, I think the people at the real coal-face of the organisation often have the best ideas. So by talking to your employees, or talking to your customers, you have a much better chance as an industry to really understand what innovation can do.

Intellectual capital doesn’t always pay off

I believe there’s an opportunity to invest more generally in innovation. Investing in intellectual capital is just like investing in anything else – it doesn’t always pay off.

You see, for every great 10 ideas, only one or two are going to get up. You don’t just need a return from that one or two ideas, you have to consider covering the cost of the ones that don’t work. So you need super-returns.

I went to Israel last year and I could have kicked myself that I hadn’t been earlier in my life. What a fabulous country: no natural resources, but abundant intellectual capital. And it’s a really great reminder what brilliant things can happen if intellectual capital is what you invest in.

Growth means looking beyond Australia

Australia has industries like health, food, education, financial services – not even taking into account our resources – where we are known to be the best in the world. We have the highest quality, the highest standards.

I’m extremely passionate about trying to encourage Australian companies to embrace and grow, not just in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but in Asia more broadly.

Thirty-five per cent of global growth is coming from China at the moment. Indonesia is forecast to be the third biggest economy in the world by the year 2030. And yet as a country, we’re investing more money in New Zealand in 2015 than we’re investing in Asia. Why would you do that? Why would you do that when the Australian and New Zealand economy only adds up to about 2% of the world’s economy, and when the other 98% is available to be cultivated?

To get super-returns, can I suggest – as much as I love this country – why would we not go just up the road to Asia? We are so lucky. Now is the time to do it. Because the advances in technology are enabling smaller companies in Australia to really go and take it via social media.

Small can make it big with social media

Blackmores ran a social media campaign on WeChat. If you aren’t familiar with WeChat, it’s how the Chinese communicate; they don’t use Facebook, they use WeChat.

We approached Li Na, the world’s number two women’s tennis player, to support a charity event. We were trying to raise awareness of congenital heart disease in China with children, and we asked Li Na to do it.

I believe we just recorded her in our own office, off the back of someone’s own camera. No big expense. We asked people to log on, hook their mobile phones on to our WeChat account, and to track their steps. And for so many steps we’d give money to the charity.

Within days we had five million hashtags, 800,000 people had logged on, and 25 million steps had been tracked. We just could not believe it.

But you see, that is an example of how small Australian companies can really exploit this wonderful opportunity and get their message out. You no longer have to spend millions to do it, so I think, if you do not go and grab hold of ASEAN: beware. Because the Germans are – and I hate saying that because I love Germany too – 23% of capital investment going into Indonesia is coming from Europe.

Not every milestone is financial

One of the learnings that I’ve experienced is that when change happens, or you’re trying to push for something like moving into China, and regulation evolves, it can be seen as risky.

I think what you have to do is try and educate the shareholders in the market – I don’t mean that in a patronising way. But we need to set milestones other than financial, and try and bring our shareholders on the journey. There are many ways to measure success, and they’re not just financial. I’ll give you an example.

I went to Blackmores’ Chairman of the Board Marcus Blackmore and said, “Marcus, I want to spend all this money in Asia, and try to turn it around, even though generally we aren’t making any profits there, and despite the fact we’ve already been there for 35 years. And I’m not sure when you’re going to see your cash back. I just know we need to do it.” That was my business case.

Why? Because we needed to build a natural hedge in the business, because our raw materials came from overseas, we needed to have diversification of risk, and so I talked through the other strategic reasons.

Generally, Marcus says a business plan is out of date the day the board has signed it off. Which is true, isn’t it? It’s like budgets, budgets change the very next day and you’ve got a different view.

So I think we need to think differently about financial hurdles and how we invest in innovation and opportunities. It’s not just financial – there are very many different other ways to think about it.

Are banks right to consider overseas investment risky?

I don’t think Australian business are doing enough to innovate. But it’s not just because the CEOs or the boards don’t want to, it’s because of a set of circumstances.

If you go to the bank and say “I’d like to build a facility down in Adelaide, can you lend me $10 million?” they will say, “Sure”, and just give you whatever your margin rate is over cash.

Conversely, if you say “I’d like to spend $10 million building a business in China,” they are likely to say “Sure, that’s three times your normal rate.”

So to start off with the banks, they generally make it more expensive for overseas investments, they put that hurdle in because they say it’s higher risk. Potentially it is higher risk, but I would suggest it’s higher risk if you don’t do it.

Free trade agreements are just the first step

Saying all that, I think the free trade agreements with the government are a really positive sign and a really good first step, and I’m really encouraged that Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon. Steve Ciobo is going to take on the great work of former Federal Trade Minister, the Hon. Andrew Robb AO and carry on with it.

It’s not really the tariffs that are the issue. They are a big impediment, but they’re not the issue. For us, for example, in food and health, it’s actually the ingredient strategies and the regulation when you go into a country.

For China I really want to see a recognition of our standards here in Australia, which are the highest in the world. And if we have recognition of them we would be able to take more products in.

China is booming because of the free trade zones. But really to serve a world market you need to be in the broader retail market, and that requires another level. The free trade agreements are just the first step. We now need to free up regulatory barriers.

We need to utilise our international student resources 

The Government can do one thing to help – well, they can do lots of things – but they can do one thing in particular. You ask a lot of small Australian businesses, “Why aren’t you embracing ASEAN or Asia?”

They’ll often say “Because there are so many risks” or “We don’t understand” or “We don’t have the skills”. The language barrier puts off a lot of people.

We have hundreds of thousands of students right now living in Australia. What I would love to see is the government changing the rules on the number of hours these Asian students can work in our society.

Legitimately, they’re only allowed to work 10 hours a week, and so what happens is they can’t get meaningful work. So they end up working as waiters and waitresses, and – whether we like this or not – so often not being paid the correct wage, working more than their 10 hours and being employed illegally.

I say this because I have first-hand experience of how great these students are. We took in a foreign student at Blackmores with the help of Sydney University; a young law student from Korea. He helped Blackmores launch in Korea, and he’s now our junior lawyer.

So as you can see, there’s this wonderful resource not being utilised. While students can legally stay on for a year after graduation, this clause is actually not good enough. These students need to go back to their families and they haven’t got the money for that luxury – and if they’re being sponsored in any way then those businesses want them back.

But while they’re here, let’s have them doing meaningful work. It’s good for them, it’s good for their countries, but selfishly, it’s good for our business.

Long-term government support

In terms of waiting on government for policy changes to encourage better regulation, we have a culture of knocking off politicians as soon as they get voted in. Maybe we need to support our politicians and it’s us as voters who are a part of the issue.

We should respect the people that are voted in, respect the people’s choice in voting them in, and get behind them and help them be successful. We need a long-term government.

Christine Holgate

Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Blackmores

This speech on intellectual capital and other innovation opportunities was first published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). Read the original text and more of CEDA’s top 10 speeches on disruption and innovation here

Read next: Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk, Microsoft’s state director for South Australia, considers how the cloud can lead to the democratisation of technology.

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blindness

New river blindness vaccine begins trial

Featured image above: The new vaccine Advax could prevent river blindness, which affects 17 million people globally. Credit: Flinders University 

A new vaccine with the potential to prevent millions of cases of blindness is a step closer to commercialisation.

The river blindness vaccine is being developed using the patented adjuvant technology Advax by biotechnology company Vaxine Pty Ltd in South Australia.

The vaccine, which uses a unique sugar-based adjuvant, is set for cattle trials before the end of the year.

According to the World Health Organisation, river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis, affects about 17 million people globally.

It is spread by blackflies that breed in rivers, infecting humans and cattle with a parasitic worm known as Onchocerca volvulus.

The parasites can cause eye inflammation, bleeding, and other complications that ultimately lead to blindness.

Advax makes the pathogen in the vaccine more easily recognised by the body’s immune system so it can develop appropriate antibodies.

The vaccine is being primed for a cattle trial in the United States after successful testing in mice.

Vaxine Scientific Director Nikolai Petrovsky said the company planned a two-pronged approach to effectively preventing the disease.

“First we’re looking to vaccinate the cattle, which are a breeding ground for the parasite,” he says.

“Then the other side of this is to immunise the children so if they come in contact with the parasite it blocks the infection.

“Our technology is a bit like melding a turbocharger to the engine and in this case makes the vaccine dramatically more powerful.”

Blackflies bite the host, passing on the parasite in the process. The parasitic worms then produce microfilariae that migrate to the skin, eyes and other organs.

Onchocerciasis is a major cause of blindness in African, particularly in the western and central parts of the continent. It is also prevalent in many South American countries.

River blindness is partly responsible for the reduction of economic productivity in many of those areas, causing vast tracts of arable land to be abandoned.

Potential solutions to the problem, such as ivermectin, have been developed but have often led to a resistance to the drugs.

Professor Petrovski says one of the main problems was that other methods used aluminium-based adjuvants, which were not always effective.

“We offer a new alternative that is not only potentially safer because it is a sugar instead of a metal/salt with high toxicity,” he says.

“Our adjuvant also works for a lot of vaccines that wouldn’t work with aluminium. The ones that tried to create an onchocerciasis vaccine didn’t take but ours actually works.”

Vaxine is funded by the US National Institutes of Health to develop polysaccharide adjuvants that have played a vital role in the development of a range of vaccines for infectious diseases, allergies, and cancers.

It is internationally renowned for developing the world’s first swine flu vaccine during the 2009 pandemic and is active on other fronts including Ebola and Zika virus research.

The river blindness vaccine was developed in association with Thomas Jefferson University and the New York Blood Centre in the United States.

The group has received a grant from the US Government for the cattle trial and plans to begin tests in the coming weeks.

The results of the vaccine’s mice trials were published in National Center for Biotechnology Information.

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 18 November 2016. Read the original article here.

GSK Award

GSK Award for Research Excellence winners

Australian researchers exploring “dimmer switch” medicines that could help patients with obesity, diabetes and schizophrenia, have won the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence.

The ground-breaking research by Professors Arthur Christopoulos and Patrick Sexton from Monash University offers hope for people with chronic conditions. According to the researchers, medicines that can be “turned up” or “turned down” rather than “on and off“ will give doctors more variability to tailor treatment to a patient’s medical needs. Medicines based on this principle will allow patients to lead a more normal life without the side effects associated with existing drugs.

Their research into G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) has begun to unravel the complexities of drug action that could lead to more targeted medicines. The “dimmer switch” of a protein, known as the allosteric site, allows the targeted protein to be dialled up or down in a way that was not previously possible.

Both professors were congratulated on winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence at the annual Research Australia Awards in Sydney. The award is well recognised among the Australian medical research community and includes an $80,000 prize that will help the winners progress their work.

“Many medicines have unwanted side effects because they work by simply turning receptors on or off, even though we know that most of these proteins have the potential for more graded levels of response that can become highly relevant in the contexts of tissue specificity, disease and individual patient profiles. We have discovered a more tailored way to exploit this functionality, by targeting regions on the receptors that act more like dimmer switches rather than on/off switches,” says Sexton.

Both professors are world leaders in the study of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), the largest class of drug targets, and the application of analytical pharmacology to understand allosteric modulation. In recent years their work has challenged traditional views of how medicines were thought to work.

“We have found molecules that can subtly dial up or dial down the effect of the receptor protein, or even ‘dictate’ which pathways it can or can’t signal to. This means we could in theory treat a range of diseases with this approach more effectively and safely by avoiding some of the side effects associated with standard on/off-type drugs.”

“Because an allosteric mechanism is more subtle and ‘tuneable’, medicines based on this principle can allow patients to lead a more normal life, especially those with chronic conditions,” says Christopoulos.

The GSK Award for Research Excellence is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian medical research community. It has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with potential importance to human health.

Dr Andrew Weekes, Medical Director, GSK Australia, said GSK is proud to be able to support local researchers with the Award, now in its 36th year.

“The award has been given to some remarkable people over the years, many of whom are eminent academics in their field. GSK is honoured to support the research community and excited by their discoveries, which we believe will one day help patients,” says Weekes.

Professor Christopoulos said winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence is a great recognition of the efforts of all the scientists who have worked in this area over the years, often in the face of early scepticism.

“Science relies on the efforts and insights generated from dedicated people over many years. For us, this award is thus also an acknowledgement and testament to our colleagues, collaborators, students and postdocs who have helped us take a theoretical concept to the point where today we are creating a new paradigm in drug discovery,” says Christopoulos.

“This award will greatly assist us in progressing our research on allosteric modulation into new areas, and accelerate the possibility of helping patients suffering from a range of diseases that represent global health burdens but remain sub-optimally treated,” says Sexton.

Among the previous recipients of the GSK Award for Research Excellence are Australia’s most noted scientific researchers, including Professor Tony Basten (1980), Professor Nicos Nicola (1993) and Professor Peter Koopman (2007). The 2015 GSK Award for Research Excellence was awarded to James McCluskey (University of Melbourne) and Jamie Rossjohn (Monash University) for their research into the immune system.

This information on the GSK Award for Research Excellence was first shared as a media release by GSK on 17 November 2016. 

Duchenne muscular dystrophy

FDA approves Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug

Video above: Murdoch University researchers Steve Wilton and Sue Fletcher discuss their new drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The powerful US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light to a drug developed by Western Australia researchers Sue Fletcher and Steve Wilton for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The Murdoch University scientists developed an innovative treatment to help sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a crippling muscle-wasting disease that affects about one in 3500 boys worldwide.

The FDA decision is a huge win for the global pharma company Sarepta Therapeutics, which has developed the drug under the name Eteplirsen.

In their breakthrough research, Fletcher and Wilton had devised a way to bypass the faulty gene responsible for the disease, using a technique called exon skipping.

The FDA’s approval follows an emotional campaign by sufferers, their families, and supporters of Eteplirsen.

Earlier this year, some 40 sufferers in wheelchairs and their families flew to Washington from around the US, and from as far as the UK, to show their faith in the treatment after authorities questioned aspects of the drug’s clinical trial.

Fletcher’s and Wilton’s innovative discovery had already won the 2012 WA Innovator of the Year Award.

In 2013, the researchers, then with UWA, signed a multi-million dollar deal with Sarepta to develop Eteplirsen.

Under the deal, they would get up to US$7.1 million in upfront and milestone payments, as well as royalties on the net sales of all medicines developed and approved.

– Tony Malkovic 

This article was first published by Science Network Western Australia on 21 September 2016. Read the original article here. 

Read next: CtX forges $730 m deal for new cancer drug. A promising new cancer drug, developed in Australia by the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), has been licensed to US pharmaceutical company Merck in a deal worth $730 million.

funding cancer research

Cancer research investment boost

Featured image above: Cancer research at the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre has received a funding boost. Credit: CTx

The Chief Executive of the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre (CTx), Dr Warwick Tong, announced last week that a majority of its current partners have chosen to reinvest their share of the recent cash distribution from CTx back into the organisation.

In January 2016 CTx licensed its PRMT5 Project to MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) in a landmark deal and received over $14 million dollars as its share of the signature payment. Novel drugs arising from the project will be developed and commercialised by Merck. Potential future milestone payments and royalties will also be shared within the partnership.

“Our 2013 application to the Department of Industry CRC Programme outlined the intent to actively secure reinvestment of funds from any commercialisation success back into our cancer drug development activities”, said Tong. “To have this commitment from our partners is the validation and support we wanted.

“The more than seven million dollars will boost our ability to deliver new cancer drugs for adults and children”.

“CTx has made great use of its partnership network to deliver this project,” said Professor Grant McArthur Chair of the CTx Scientific Advisory Board. “The reinvestment is a very positive recognition by the partners that CTx will continue to provide benefits for patients and strengthen translational cancer research in Australia”.

This article was first published by the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre on 29 June 2016. Read the original article here.

To read more articles on research funding, visit:

$22.6 million research funding – A round of applications is expected to open in August for 11 newly funded Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) projects.

Australian research funding infographic – The latest OECD figures reveal how Australia’s science and research funding compares with other countries.