Conjunctivitis treatment gets $13m from Brandon Capital for local trial
February 28, 2018
Australians with viral conjunctivitis will be the first to try drops that hope to clear up the eye infection and reduce its fortnight-long infectious period, after an opthalmic drug developer was lured from San Diego to Sydney by $13 million from a local biotech venture capital manager.
The Sydney Eye Hospital will host the first human trial of OKG-0301, a virus-dismantling ribonuclease developed by Okogen, which has established an Australian subsidiary following the $13 million investment by Melbourne-based Brandon Capital’s Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF).
There is currently no effective treatment for viral conjunctivitis, which comprises about 80 per cent of all conjunctivitis cases in adults, according to Professor Stephanie Watson, an opthalmic surgeon at Sydney Eye Hospital whom Okogen has hired to run the trial.
“Conjunctivitis is very common and highly contagious. Once you’ve got it, you’re infectious for two weeks and you’ve go a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to somebody else,” she said.
“It takes a lot of people out of work or school for days at a time, and it’s debilitating. The cornea has a greater concentration of nerves than any other part of the body.”
In up to 10 per cent of cases, conjunctivitis can cause severe inflammation of the cornea which can lead to vision loss and a need for treatment for years afterwards, Professor Watson said.
Faced with patients upset at having to quarantine themselves for two weeks, many doctors today prescribe antibiotics for viral conjunctivitis, which was worse than doing nothing, according to Professor Watson.
“It doesn’t help the infection and just makes it more likely to spread to the other eye because it’s applied through an eye dropper,” she said.
Some of the average 1000 people a year who present to the Sydney Eye Hospital with viral conjunctivitis will be asked to join the trial, which Professor Watson expected to start in the second half of 2018. A notice for referrals to the trial will also be sent to the wider opthalmics profession.
OKG-0301 had its origins as a cancer drug, and Professor Watson said it aimed to break down the conjunctivitis virus at a cellular level.
The repurposing of the drug into opthalmics means it already has safety data attached to it, potentially cutting the development time.
Brandon Capital investment manager Chris Smith said the MRCF’s investment horizon to get Okogen ready for marketing approval by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and acquired by a major pharmaceutical company, could be as little as two years.
There was an encouraging trend towards more offshore drug makers looking to conduct clinical trials in Australia, said Mr Smith, thanks to a combination of increased domestic investment in biotech – the Brandon MCRF’s backers include Australian Super, Host Plus, HESTA and SA’s Statewide Super – the research and development tax incentive, and in Okogen’s case, proactive work by the NSW Department of Health.
Professor Watson also pointed to the comparative complexity in FDA governance of trials, as well as Australia’s “well organised” health system.
“People come back for their follow-ups in Australia,” she said.
Meanwhile, Brandon Capital’s MCRF invested a further $7 million last week in Cincera, a spin-off from the University of South Australia and Monash University, which is developing new therapies to target conditions relating to an unhealthy Western diet, including diseases associated with obesity.
Cincera will initially focus on treatments for what it claims is an “emerging epidemic” of a liver disease known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
The Australian Financial Review
28 February, 2018