Psychedelics, cancer cure on Twiggy’s radar through new VC fund

Billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest is on the hunt for Australia’s next biotech household name with the launch of a $250 million venture capital fund for healthcare investments.

The fund, called Tenmile, will be backed by Tattarang, the private investment group co-owned by Forrest and his wife Nicola. It will be one of the few Australian investment vehicles purely focused on backing health technology companies.

Chief executive of Tenmile portfolio company Carina Biotech, Dr Deborah Rathjen, with Dr Steve Burnell.
Chief executive of Tenmile portfolio company Carina Biotech, Dr Deborah Rathjen, with Dr Steve Burnell.

Tenmile’s executive chair Dr Steve Burnell said while COVID-19 has proved to be a significant tailwind for the biotech sector, Australian companies still needed access to more private capital beyond initial grant funding.

“Australia could be the sort of health technology superpower, in a way…the foundations have been laid. We really think the missing ingredient is capital to help these companies reach ‘exit velocity’, as I say,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

The pandemic has shone a light on the global value of healthcare companies, though valuations have slid and share prices have taken a hit amid this year’s global market selloff. The ASX health care index is down by 7 per cent over the past year, with even giants like CSL and ResMed declining over the past 12 months.

Burnell said there is still plenty of cutting-edge research that needs funding to produce long-term value beyond the pandemic. Tenmile is willing to be patient with its holdings, looking at investment horizons from a couple of years to a decade.

“The point is we’re not driven to push companies towards premature IPOs or some sort of exit,” Burnell said.

The fund’s maiden investments are focused on relatively new therapeutic areas, including personalised cancer treatments and the use of psychedelics and medicinal cannabinoids.


The first Australian companies to join the portfolio are Emyria, which is working on a psychedelic-assisted treatment for post-traumatic stress, and Carina Biotech, developing ‘CAR-T’ therapies that harness the human immune system to help fight cancer.

The portfolio will also include a stake in the US health tech investor Rock Health.

Carina Biotech chief executive Dr Deborah Rathjen said the capital would help give the company enough runway to launch clinical trials of its treatment with bowel cancer patients in Australia.

Despite the focus on healthcare throughout the pandemic, she noted restrictions and the uncertain economic environment had taken a toll on smaller companies, making funding support critical.

“There’s no denying the last couple of years has been very challenging for small innovative biotechs,” she said.

Andrew Forrest’s Tattarang will back the $250 million healthcare vehicle.
Andrew Forrest’s Tattarang will back the $250 million healthcare vehicle. Credit:Bloomberg

State and federal governments have long been the major source of funding for research-focused businesses, with only a few local investors running funds exclusively for healthcare investments.

Last year Australian Unity launched its ‘Future of Healthcare’ fund, which is focused on a mix of listed and unlisted companies as well as health-related infrastructure, while Platinum Asset Management’s international healthcare portfolio is another major investor in the sector.

Andrew Forrest said Tenmile’s model means it can act decisively to help researchers commercialise ideas.

“Our laser-focused approach means we can help early-stage companies, researchers and entrepreneurs tap into seed funding to help them when they need it most, and then provide follow-on support, which is often unavailable through government or public sector funds.”

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