Kiwi cancer start-up receives $15m to develop new treatment

Source: 1News

A Kiwi biotech company is developing a new immunotherapy medicine that can help patients' immune systems destroy cancer cells.

The company, TamoRx, was founded by the University of Auckland's Dr Joanna Mathy and Professor Rod Dunbar.

Led by Mathy, TamoRx will focus on improving the immune attack on cancer cells within tumours.

"We have discovered a new mechanism that restricts the immune system from fighting cancer," she says.

"Those initial discoveries were made at the University of Auckland in the School of Biological Sciences and we wanted to further develop this because we could see its potential to become a new medicine.

"We are aiming to free patients' immune systems from this restriction and increase the immune attack on cancer cells within tumours. To do this we need to develop new drugs that can target this immune control mechanism without affecting other cells in the body.

"We want to move quickly so we can bring new immunotherapy to patients as soon as possible, and the scale of this new investment will allow us to move all the way to early-stage clinical trials if we're successful in our pre-clinical development."

More than $15 million has been invested in the start-up by life science investor Brandon Capital, along with the University of Auckland Inventors' Fund, managed by UniServices, the University's commercialisation and research impact company.

Mathy says it's a "really substantial investment".

"Drug discovery does take massive investment. With this money we will be able to finish both the pre-clinical work and get through phase one clinical trials.

"Those are trials where we are predominantly focused on looking at safety but we will also get an early indication on how well the medicine will work for cancer patients."

She said it would be difficult to put a timeline on how long the medicine's development might take, adding that there are "milestones" along the way.

"It would be a few years, I would anticipate - that's just the typical development timeline," Mathy says.

Melbourne-based Brandon Capital is the largest life sciences investment fund in Australasia.

"The team has a unique insight that can help to build a completely new approach to immunotherapy and that's why we're excited to lead this investment," says Duncan Mackintosh, Brandon Capital's New Zealand head.

"We have a world-class team developing what could be a revolutionary therapy for cancer patients globally and it's great to see this happen from New Zealand, really highlighting the capability of our research community."

UniServices at University of Auckland, through the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology, is one of six New Zealand members able to access capital, expertise, and networks to take biomedical discoveries to market.

"It has been a privilege to work with the team to form and secure investment into TamoRx. UniServices is proud to support TamoRx and help to advance them to reach the full potential of this novel approach to cancer therapy," says Evelyn Body, director of commercialisation at UniServices.