Featured News A $6M investment in FNQ science

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Wed, 15 Aug 2018

A $6M investment in FNQ science

Professor Alex Loukas
Paragen Bio's Head of Research, Professor Alex Loukas

James Cook University’s first biotech start-up, Paragen Bio Pty Ltd, has been launched in Cairns today.

Paragen Bio is focused on treating autoimmune diseases, a range of diseases in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs, leading to the deterioration and in some cases to the complete destruction of tissue.

AbbVie Ventures, Brandon Capital’s Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), and OneVentures announced an AU$6 million investment into the new biotech company, which is one of just a handful of biotech companies in northern Queensland.

Paragen’s technology is based on research with parasitic hookworms which has been conducted at JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) by Professor Alex Loukas and team for the past eight years. The technology was developed at JCU with support from the Australian Research Council, Queensland Government, and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Hookworms are blood-sucking parasites that frequently infect humans in tropical regions with poor sanitation. Because of a modern lifestyle and access to anti-worm therapies, the prevalence of hookworm infections in humans is slowly decreasing. This lack of infection is linked to a rise in the incidence of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and allergic diseases.

In clinical trials, Paragen researchers have shown that experimental infection of human subjects with hookworms can protect against the onset of autoimmune diseases. Proteins extracted from hookworm saliva can prevent the development of symptoms associated with a range of inflammatory diseases. The $6M investment into Paragen will go towards advancing the development of novel medicines sourced from hookworms to treat such autoimmune diseases.

“The syndicate of investors is a testament to the high-calibre research coming from Australia and James Cook University, in particular,” Paragen Director and AbbVie Ventures Managing Director Margarita Chavez said.

“Autoimmune diseases are reaching epidemic proportions in developed countries and there is an urgent need for new therapeutic approaches,” Paragen Head of Research Professor Alex Loukas said.

“At Paragen Bio we’re being guided in our drug discovery efforts by millennia of co-evolution between parasitic hookworms and their mammalian hosts, and in particular the effect hookworms can have on our immune systems.

“We’re excited to be working with AbbVie Ventures, Brandon Capital and OneVentures, whose investment will help us make that critical step from research towards eventually trialling a potential treatment.”

The AITHM was established by a $42.12m injection from the Queensland Government, with funding matched by the Australian Federal Government, with the aim of making northern Queensland a research and innovation hub, focused on research into tropical health and medical research.

Venture capital investment from OneVentures’ Healthcare Fund III has been supported by the Australian Government’s Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF). The BTF program was established by the Australian Government Department of Health to provide a pool of public and private funds for investment in promising biomedical innovations with commercialisation potential.

The $6M investment will help Paragen Bio achieve its first stage of development. The funding comes from AbbVie Ventures – the venture arm of AbbVie, Inc., as well as Brandon Capital’s MRCF and OneVentures.

Media enquiries: linden.woodward@jcu.edu.au