Listed biotech Starpharma’s boss Dr Jackie Fairley has said that the coronavirus pandemic could be the catalyst for the pharmaceutical industry to better translate research into commercial products, adding that Australia may be reliant on other global powerhouses for access to a vaccine.
Dr Fairley said while Australia was punching above its weight in research, it still needed to work at longer-term commercialisation.
“We haven’t been so successful in commercialising discoveries and often times they have been licensed at an early stage, for a relatively small return, rather than taken through to a later stage,” she said.
“We need to improve that translational element, there’s no doubt about that.”
With global markets reacting positively to any news of coronavirus treatment and medical research firmly on the radar of investors , Dr Fairley said that Australia’s dependence on overseas manufacturing has been hard to ignore.
“We have stopped manufacturing many things in Australia over the years and have a greater reliance on importation,” she said.
“We need to encourage a greater level of advanced manufacturing and high tech jobs because I think the evidence suggests that the multiplier effect for those dollars in terms of investment are far greater than in many other industries where that investment has historically been applied.”
Dr Fairley added that the global race to develop a vaccine also drove home Australia may be reliant on other nations for supply if a foreign company commercialised a COVID-19 treatment first, observing we would not necessarily be “top of the list” for accessing orders of a successful vaccine produced in Europe or the US.
Positive news from global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer about its vaccine candidate this week buoyed the Australian sharemarket yesterday, with the S&P/ASX 200 Health Care index ending the session 1.8 per cent stronger. Starpharma shares climbed over 2.2 per cent to $1.17.
Few local biotech companies have taken research from the lab to commercialisation like Starpharma has, having been spun out of CSIRO research and then listed on the ASX 20 years ago. The $435 million business uses dendrimers, man-made nanoscale particles which are structurally perfect and symmetrical, in its products and research.
Over the past few years the company has been expanding the reach of its VivaGel products, including antiviral condoms and a treatment for bacterial vaginosis, across the globe. It also has a range of trials in the works to establish if its dendrimers boost the effectiveness of different cancer drugs.
Like many others, the business has also pivoted its research during the pandemic, and is working on the development of a nasal spray using its pre-existing anti-viral dendrimer, SPL7013.
Dr Fairley said she hoped the product would show through trials that it worked as a preventative measure that could be used by those most at risk, like healthcare workers.
“In addition to PPE, it would actually provide an additional barrier, independent of vaccines or together with them.”
The nasal spray project is one element of a full deck of research and development projects slated for the coming year.
While a number of local biotechs were hit hard by pandemic shutdowns, Starpharma has pushed forward with global deals unaffected. Last month it announced it was starting to sell its condom products into central and western Europe, following on from product deals in South East Asia in February.
Dr Fairley said maintaining those global relationships through the virus shutdowns was not as difficult as anticipated.
“The reality is we’ve done all of the meetings we would have done face-to-face virtually. In some ways, that’s more efficient.”
Over the past few months, investors and founders across the medtech sector have been highlighting the importance of global cooperation to grow successful Australian companies.
Dr Fairley agrees, observing that success in the sector is often driven by global commercial partnerships and research arrangements.
“Big companies understand the role smaller companies play in the whole innovation cycle,” she said.
This global focus should also be considered when incentivising research, she said. The nation’s research and development tax incentive scheme focuses on local expenditure only.
“When you are developing pharmaceutical products, there are many aspects of that development that you simply can’t do in Australia — so I do think that’s an important feature that needs to be looked at.”
Source: Thanks smh.com