University collaboration launched to discover new medicines

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a new $80 million collaboration between Monash University and the University of Melbourne in the field of biomedical research.

The enterprise was officially launched today in Melbourne by the two universities and Wade Noonan, Victorian Minister for Industry and Employment.

The minister announced the Victorian government will contribute $10 million towards the $60 million needed to get the enterprise underway, with the two universities having already committed $50 million.  

The new enterprise will be owned jointly by the two universities but will be independently governed by a Board. It has the aim of bringing the advanced commercialisation skills and funding needed to address successfully the early stage “valley of death” that faces new discoveries.

In a statement, the universities said the enterprise is expected to generate about $360 million in activity, support new companies, increase investment and exports and create specialised jobs in the sector.

"Further funding is being sought from Commonwealth, philanthropic trusts and charities," said the enterprise.

Former Victorian premier and professorial fellow at both the University of Melbourne and Monash University, John Brumby, will chair the new enterprise.

The new enterprise is the brainchild of Professor Bill Charman, Director of the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Professor Danny Hoyer, the University of Melbourne’s Chair and Head of Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

“The biomedical sector in Melbourne is already world-leading, thanks to proven research excellence and pharmaceutical outcomes from Monash and the University of Melbourne, combined with major health services such as Alfred Health, Melbourne Health and Monash Health. However, too often important medical discoveries have not made it from the lab into new cures and therapies. And those that have succeeded, have often need to be taken off shore early in their development such that higher commercial and scientific value has been lost to Australia,” said Professor Charman.

“Our new enterprise uses the combined research expertise, and infrastructure, of the two universities as a strong pipeline of high quality drug targets and drug candidates, along with the objective perspective of an independent entity which can then rapidly progress this forward to more advanced and then externally-funded stages of development,” he added.

Professor Hoyer, with 30 years at Sandoz and Novartis in Switzerland before joining The University of Melbourne, said that the University of Melbourne and Monash University have a rich pipeline of biomedical opportunities to kick start theenterprise.

“Global Pharma who spend 30-40 % of their R&D budget externally, are interested in clinically validated drug targets; Melbourne has world-leading translational biomedical research embedded in both universities, medical research institutes and research hospitals.  Melbourne is ideally placed to provide this translational knowledge, that is to close the loop from patient to bench and back to patient, and to test these drug candidates in carefully defined and selected patient cohorts,” said Professor Hoyer.

“However, to be effective, we need an independent enterprise staffed with professionals who have done it all before, versed in the logistics of developing medicines including project management, preclinical safety, pharmacokinetics and metabolism,  pharmaceutical development, regulatory aspects, and contemporary clinical trial design. ”

“A wide range of drug candidates are currently at preclinical or early clinical stages at both Universities,” said Professor Hoyer. “The targeted diseases range from Preeclampsia, a potentially fatal condition in pregnancy, to various forms of epilepsy and other devastating neurological diseases, severe kidney, lung and cardiovascular disorders as well as a range of cancers and infectious diseases. This new enterprise will enable some of these and other transformational drug candidates to become a medical and commercial reality, by combining expertise and scale of both partners.”

Monash University President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AO said the joint venture would reinforce Melbourne’s international reputation in health and medicine research.

“Melbourne has been at the leading edge of biomedical innovation for the better part of a century, from John Cade’s experiments with lithium in the 1940s to pioneering work in IVF and the Bionic Ear during the 1970s and more recent breakthroughs in cancer treatment, stem cell research and anti-viral drugs. This collaboration will extend that record of innovation even further.

“This is an era in which Victoria can make unprecedented strides in tackling disease and investing in transformative research to solve the health challenges for the state and the world. The catalyst is our bold venture to do precisely that,” said Professor Gardner.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said the new enterprise was a great opportunity to bring two world-leading universities together. “This enterprise will bring two outstanding research universities together to help provide a drug development catalyst, one that will attract global talent and international pharmaceutical companies to Victoria in a bid to help better translate research into commercial activity.”

 “Convergence is the great theme of our time, and this is an enterprise that will bring people together around shared goals. And while it will start at the universities, it will move quickly to working with our partners in hospitals, medical research institutes and commercial players, all of whom will play a key part in its success."