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Healthy Outlook: Where your super is invested

November 27, 2021

A nasal spray to prevent Covid-19, a pill to put Type 2 diabetes into remission and a wireless pacemaker are among the game-changing clinical trials funded through superannuation contributions

The trials are funded by Brandon Capital’s Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, a unique collaboration between Statewide Super and other major Australian superannuation funds, the Australian and New Zealand governments, Australian state governments and more than 50 leading medical research institutes and research hospitals.

Established in 2007, the MRCF now has more than $800 million under management.

“What we are doing is taking medical research from the lab to the clinic and developing it into therapies or medical devices or treatment that can be used by patients,” Brandon’s Adelaidebased investment director Dr Melissa McBurnie says.

“People may not think about how their super is being put to work while they are waiting (to access it in retirement), but the impact that those funds can have is really powerful in creating better health outcomes and better, more advanced, treatment options.”

One of the most eagerly anticipated trials backed by MRCF is a nasal spray developed by Ena Respiratory for the prevention of respiratory infections such as Covid-19, influenza and the common cold.

The fast-acting, self-administered spray has been designed to activate an immune response in the nose, where most respiratory viral infections start.

Human testing into INNA-051 is currently underway, with widespread trials expected to start early next year. If successful, the treatment could work alongside vaccines, providing an alternative for those who may be immunocompromised or are fearful of needles.

“As the pandemic has progressed, we have come to recognise that vaccines are a major part of the managing the risks of Covid-19 but we do need more tools available to enable multiple layers of protection,” Dr McBurnie says. “We are very optimistic about Ena Respiratory’s product, especially for people with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to infection, as well as those frontline workers who may be at increased risk of exposure to viruses.”

Dr McBurnie is also optimistic about the start of human trials in Adelaide of the GLY-200 pill that mimics the effect of gastric bypass surgery to improve sugar control and put Type 2 diabetes into remission. Described as the Holy Grail of diabetes research, the pill has a polymer that binds to the mucus lining of the upper gut, allowing food to be diverted from the upper gastrointestinal track. About one million Australians are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes but there is an estimated 500,000 more who are undiagnosed. Worldwide, about 500 million people suffer from the chronic condition. “Gastric bypass surgery is very effective (in treating Type 2 diabetes) but it’s a very invasive procedure,” Dr McBurnie says. “If the same result could be achieved taking a pill, it would be an absolute gamechanger.”

The MRCF is also backing Adelaide trials of a wireless pacemaker that is hoped will bring the life-changing benefits of cardiac resynchronization to patients who may be unsuitable for the larger, traditional pacemakers, and an implant designed to deliver six months of treatment to patients with glaucoma, eliminating the need for daily eye drops.

A new treatment for diffuse systemic scleroderma, a rare incurable fibrotic autoimmune disease characterised by thickened skin on the body, is also being tested on South Australian patients. Current treatments for the condition are often ineffective. About 6000 Australians live with scleroderma, which carries lifethreating complications including scarring of the lungs, kidneys and heart.

Dr McBurnie says Adelaide trials into a range of new treatments are just the “tip of the iceberg’’ when it comes to the ground-breaking research funded by superannuation contributions.

“The MRCF has backed more than 50 companies to develop new medical technologies, we have so much exciting medical research in Australia and New Zealand that is generating these opportunities.”

She says the superannuation investments not only help those who may one day require medical treatment but also the broader community from an improved healthcare system that features the latest technologies.

Investing in our homegrown technologies also contributes to economic growth, with more than 80 “high value” science and technology jobs created to date in South Australia alone, Dr McBurnie says. “We are investing people’s retirement savings and we take that very seriously.

“The financial returns (for super fund members) absolutely have to be there but investing in biomedical research provides much broader benefits to society as a whole.

“We would encourage people to think about how their superannuation funds are being invested and think about the difference they want to make with their contributions.

“People should consider whether they want their funds to be used to contribute to a better society for everyone, and how their super investing can make a difference.”

The Advertiser
Lauren Ahwan
27 November, 2021