Disappointment for Australian innovation

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Another example of the uncertainties, vagaries and potential disappointments of drug development following the failure of a therapy that was the subject of the largest-ever venture capital exit from an Australian company.

Novartis has quietly scrapped further development of olodanrigan for neuropathic pain.

The Swiss company acquired the investigational therapy, also known as EMA401, through its US$200 million acquisition of Spinifex Pharmaceuticals in 2015.

Under the terms of the acquisition, shareholders in Spinifex could have also received an additional $US500 million in payments related to undisclosed clinical development and regulatory milestones.

In total, the value of the deal could have topped A$1 billion had olodanrigan been successfully commercialised.

Spinifex was established in 2005 at the University of Queensland. It relocated its base to the US in 2014, while maintaining a significant presence in Australia.

The company was founded based on technology developed by Professor Maree Smith and Dr Bruce Wyse at The University of Queensland. They identified AT2 receptor antagonists as inhibitors of neuropathic pain in preclinical models.

Based on the commercial potential of the product in the treatment of chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain, the technology was spun-out of The University of Queensland into Spinifex Pharmaceuticals via a Series A investment round from UniSeed, UniQuest and GBS Venture Partners.

Novartis acquired Spinifex following positive results from a Phase 2 trial of olodanrigan in Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN), a condition that can develop following 'shingles'.

The Swiss company continued the development of the therapy through two key Phase 2b clinical trials in patients with PHN and Painful Diabetic Neuropathy EMPHENE and EMPADINE. However, the trials, which included sites in Australia, were discontinued earlier this year.