AbbVie invests in northern QLD biotech

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AbbVie Ventures, Brandon Capital’s Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and OneVentures have announced a $6 million investment in new biotechnology company Paragen Bio.

Paragen Bio is the first biotechnology startup from James Cook University (JCU) and is one of a small number of similar companies based in northern Queensland.

It is focused on treating autoimmune diseases, a range of diseases which causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs, leading to the deterioration and in some cases to the complete destruction of tissue.

Paragen’s technology is based on research with parasitic hookworms that has been conducted at JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) by Professor Alex Loukas and team for the past eight years.

The technology was developed at JCU with support from the Australian Research Council, the Queensland government and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Hookworms are blood-sucking parasites that frequently infect humans in tropical regions with poor sanitation.

The prevalence of hookworm infections in humans is slowly decreasing because of a modern lifestyle and access to anti-worm therapies.

This lack of infection is linked to a rise in the incidence of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, and allergic diseases globally.

In clinical trials, Paragen researchers have shown that experimental infection of human subjects with hookworms can protect against the onset of autoimmune diseases.

The $6 million investment in Paragen will go towards advancing the development of novel medicines sourced from hookworms to treat such autoimmune diseases.

“This exemplifies AbbVie’s commitment to investing in transformative discovery research. It’s great to see Australian innovation recognised and supported by this launch,” said AbbVie managing director Kirsten O'Doherty.   

According to Paragen director and AbbVie Ventures managing director, Margarita Chavez, “The syndicate of investors is a testament to the high-calibre research coming from Australia and James Cook University, in particular.”

“Autoimmune diseases are reaching epidemic proportions in developed countries and there is an urgent need for new therapeutic approaches,” said Paragen head of Rresearch Professor Alex Loukas.

“At Paragen Bio we’re being guided in our drug discovery efforts by millennia of co-evolution between parasitic hookworms and their mammalian hosts, and in particular the effect hookworms can have on our immune systems.

“We’re excited to be working with AbbVie Ventures, Brandon Capital and OneVentures, whose investment will help us make that critical step from research towards eventually trialling a potential treatment.”

The JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine was established by a $42.12m injection from the Queensland government, with funding matched by the Australian Federal Government, with the aim of making northern Queensland a research and innovation hub, focused on research into tropical health and medical research.