Australian biotechnology researchers and entrepreneurs are being encouraged to apply for funding from the country's first national incubator, CUREator, established with $40 million funding from the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
CUREator is run by the Brandon Capital-managed Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and aims to nurture up to 40 promising research discoveries, and early clinical-stage assets, over the next three years to a point where they are ready for further investment.
Expressions of interest are now being sought for the first cohort, with funding to be awarded in early 2022.
“CUREator is for any biomedical researcher who has had that crucial ‘aha’ moment,” said Dr Simon Wilkins, its newly appointed head of operations.
“We classify this as the moment a researcher realises their discovery could change a disease state and make a real impact in the world.
“Australia already produces some of the world’s leading biomedical research and we have a proven pedigree in clinical development, however, many promising discoveries are still not getting to the point where they can be developed into new drugs and therapies. We want to change this and give this field the runway and support here in Australia to go and capture global markets, just as our trailblazing tech companies have.”
CUREator said it will deliver two streams of activity and any Australian small to medium-size enterprise (SME), or life science researcher at an Australian university or research institute, is eligible to apply for funding.
The first stream of $20 million will provide capital and hands-on expertise to guide the development of at least 25 promising preclinical biomedical technologies through to proof of concept where they are ready for further investment.
The second stream of $20 million will provide capital to support the clinical development of novel, clinical-stage drug therapies to treat disease. Opportunities that successfully receive funding through this stream, will also have the opportunity to apply for matching investment from the MRCF.
Together, both streams will result in up to a further $60 million being invested into the Australian biotechnology industry over the next three years. Companies that successfully go through the incubator programme may also be eligible for follow on investment from the MRCF’s $700 million life sciences fund.
“Up until now, Australia’s life science investment community has only been able to choose from a small number of ripe, investment-ready biomedical discoveries,” continued Dr Wilkins.
“With CUREator, we have the ability to nurture an entire orchard of opportunities on the path to commercialisation in a systematic way. It’s so exciting, it’s going to be a gamechanger.”
Dr Chris Nave, the CEO and co-founder of the MRCF, says that while the initial three-year funding round for CUREator is an important step forward, the reality is that gaps, or even chasms, remain in terms of access to adequate capital for biotech translation.
“This is a great start, however, the reality is that to have a meaningful, long-term impact, Australian medical researchers and biotech entrepreneurs require permanent access to this type of funding, and more of it. Only with this type of funding can we achieve the type of health and financial dividends the country deserves for its significant level of annual investment into the sector.
“While CUREator will provide grant funding, our strategy is to deploy it like venture capitalists, with clear milestones and deliverables.”
Dr Anne-Laure Puaux, the head of biotechnology and commercialisation at WEHI, added, “There are many promising life science research projects that, until now, have progressed as far as they can with research funding but aren’t at a point where they are a viable investment. This will be a powerful tool to help more promising Australian medical discoveries to be commercialised.”