ATIHM is committed to the transfer of our research findings either through direct impact on clinical practice or through commercialisation with our partners and collaborative spin-off companies. Some examples of AITHM collaborations are below:
Northern Australian Investment Forum
The Northern Australian Investment forum in 2015 was a seminal event in the Australian Federal Government’s Northern Development agenda. Austrade used the opportunity to promote a wide variety of investment ready projects to a cohort of invited international investors. Industries including Tropical Health and Medicine were provided with the opportunity to be matched with investors. AITHM’s involvement in the Northern Australian Investment Forum resulted in the successful establishment of new commercial partnerships. One new collaboration is with the international pharmaceutical company, Merck Global Health. Merck Global Health has an interest in tropical diseases in developing countries, and currently provides many millions of doses of praziquantel annually to treat schistosomiasis. Following a meeting at the Northern Investment Forum Professor Alex Loukas and Merck Global Health agreed to submit an application to the Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation scheme to discover vaccine and diagnostic antigens for schistosomiasis.
In 2014 Johnson & Johnson – the parent company of Janssen – announced they would facilitate new collaborations with Australian universities through their Asia Pacific Innovation Centre. At the launch of the Centre, Johnson & Johnson celebrated their collaboration with AITHM’s parasitologist Professor Alex Loukas. Janssen will provide financial support to progress work on a protein produced by hookworms that shows promise as a treatment for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.
In 2015, the Loukas collaboration with Janssen continued research into hookworm-derived anti-inflammatory biologics. The goal is to develop recombinant proteins, peptides or small molecules derived from hookworm secretions that suppress inflammation by promoting regulatory responses. This will enable the development of treatments to combat the epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis and Coeliac Disease. It may also support responses to allergic inflammation such as asthma, food allergies, and allergic dermatitis.
Malaria vaccine development
In September 2015, Professor Louis Schofield Director of AITHM, received an $2.8M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to pursue the pre-clinical development of a vaccine aimed at the goal of malaria eradication. This new funding will enhance collaboration between researchers at AITHM and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. The goal is to develop a broad spectrum vaccine effective against most species of human malaria. The major challenge is to overcome the five malaria parasite species that infect humans; these parasites are complex and hard to target. The prototype vaccine attempts to overcome these barriers by attacking most species and stages in the malaria life cycle. This project is moving towards formal regulatory testing and a manufacturing process, so the research team can develop a usable, functioning vaccine that can be rolled out, subject to tests. This commercialisation of biotechnology is being led by AITHM in conjunction with national and international parties. The research team is grateful for the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is vital to the next stages of this project.
Further to this, in May 2016 AITHM welcomed a $1.06M Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation Grant announced by Federal Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo. The grant will support the formation in northern Queensland of a commercial venture by AITHM in collaboration with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for the production and testing of a new malaria vaccine. Importantly, this grant will help guide the manufacturing process for the vaccine, to allow it to reach clinical trials by 2019.
Malaria kills about 700,000 people each year. At the AITHM laboratories in Cairns and Townsville, researchers are tackling the complex challenges posed by the disease, including the mosquitoes that transmit it and the five species of parasite than can infect humans. With an urgent need for a broadly effective vaccine, this prototype vaccine may overcome these barriers by attacking most species and stages in the malaria life cycle. This grant builds on funding of $2.8M from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and will enable the researchers to develop the manufacturing process required to take the vaccine to clinical trials in Queensland. Safety testing of the vaccine will also be undertaken in Queensland.
Trade mission to India
A small group of AITHM and JCU representatives accompanied the Hon. Andrew Robb, Minister for Trade and Investment, to India in 2015. With discussions centered on securing a bilateral trade agreement, between the two countries, the intention of the meetings were to boost international trade and investment. Professor Louis Scofield led the Tropical Health and Medicine stream with support from Professor Alex Loukas and JCU’s Manager of Innovation and Commercialisation, Dr Andrew Leech.
Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF)
AITHM, in partnership with JCU, is a member of the MRCF. Established in 2007, this investment collaboration supports early stage development and commercialisation opportunities from Australian medical research institutes and allied research hospitals. The MRCF is supported by AustralianSuper, StatewideSuper and the Australian Government under its IIF program, with support from the State Governments of Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, and Queensland.