Mark Butler launches new biotech company targeting hard-to-treat cancers

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Health Minister Mark Butler has launched a new biotechnology company that will use an innovative technology to target cancers that are difficult to treat with existing medicines.

In 2023, the Albanese Government awarded $15 million to establish the Australian Centre for Targeted Therapeutics, a collaboration between the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), the Children’s Cancer Institute and Monash University.

Mr Butler has announced that WEHI has spun out Ternarx to commercialise targeted protein degrader medicines and technology.

Targeted protein degrader technology is designed to destroy the proteins that underpin cancers. Many types of cancer can be traced to proteins, but the majority of these do not respond to drug treatment. Around 150,000 Australians are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Ternarx is developing a new protein degrader technology to create innovative cancer medicines with greater efficacy and fewer side effects. This technology can target and destroy disease-causing proteins, removing the proteins from the cancer.

Ternarx will initially focus on neuroblastoma and prostate cancer. If successful, the technology could be expanded to other types of cancer and disease-causing proteins, like those associated with currently untreatable inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

“It is an honour to officially launch Ternarx, a significant and exciting addition to Australia’s growing, high-quality medical and biotech sector," said Mr Butler.

“The technology it is pursuing has huge potential to create the next generation of treatments for cancer and other diseases.

“Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and neuroblastoma tragically claims the lives of more children under 5 than any other cancer.

“Protein degrader technology promises cancer treatments that are more effective, with fewer side effects.

“With support from the MRFF, our brilliant researchers can turn their ideas into new treatments that have potential to save thousands of lives, not just here but around the world," said Mr Butler.

WEHI director Professor Ken Smith said the landmark initiative would help establish Australia as a leader in this frontier field.

“With the potential to unlock the ‘undruggable’, targeted protein degrader technology is one of the most exciting advances in drug discovery and development,” said Professor Smith.

“The establishment of Ternarx is a testament to the wealth of scientific knowledge that exists on our shores, and our ability to remain at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies that have real potential to make a difference to our communities.

“To have the greatest impact on human health, we need to continually drive the translation of our discoveries into the new homegrown treatments, diagnostics and devices required to ensure we can live healthier, for longer.

“We thank the MRFF for continually backing the nation’s brightest researchers, helping us to bridge the critical gap between discovery and translation and ensuring that we can confidently tackle our hardest health challenges.”