Biotech startup Inflazome has raised $63 million in funding to test and commercialise its molecules for slowing the progress of inflammatory diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Born out of research from the University of Queensland and Trinity College Dublin, the startup was founded in 2016 with initial funding from Novartis Venture Fund.
The IP is licensed by the university’s commercialisation company UniQuest.
This funding round was led by life sciences venture capital firm Forbian, and also included investment from Longitude Capital, and repeat investment from Novartis and Fountain Healthcare Partners.
Inflazome has developed a strand of molecule that inhibits the NLRP3 inflammasome, which is linked to inflammatory diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and osteoarthritis, as well as gout, bowel disease and various kidney, liver and cardiovascular diseases.
Matt Cooper, a professor at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, and chief executive of Inflazome, tells StartupSmart this research was particularly ripe for commercialisation because “the medical unmet need was high and sustained”.
The product also has a strong IP position, he says, with a first-mover advantage, while a combination of other scientific advances in the space validated some of the underlying science behind the Inflazome product.
According to professor Kate Schroeder, one of the researchers who has spent several years developing the NLRP inflammasome and developing the molecule, the drug has the potential to change the way this type of disease is treated.
“All of the drugs patients are [currently] given just block symptoms, they don’t change the course of the disease,” she says.
According to tests so far, if patients are given the inhibitor drug early enough, “you can block all of the next set of symptoms that keep accumulating with age”, she adds.
For the research team, securing such significant funding is “hugely exciting”, Schroeder says.
“It’s so unusual to even get a potential compound to the point of a successful startup, and even harder to get the funding for large-scale testing,” she adds.
“It would mean so much to me to be one of a team to help get a drug to a clinic, and actually change the lives of people with a disease … to have the opportunity to be able to contribute to society is a great excitement and a privilege.”
The funding will be used to advance the product through various clinical trials in 2019. Inflazome has also appointed an industry veteran, physician and scientist Dr Thomas Jung, as chief medical officer, to help lead the clinical development of the compounds.
“It’s going to be time-consuming”
The next 12 months will see more clinical development, and significant growth for the startup, according to Cooper.
“We are only just over two years old, and by the time we reach three years we will be a clinical-stage biotech with multiple assets in the field of inflammasome biology,” he says.
For other researchers hoping to build a startup out of the lab, Schroeder’s advice is, first and foremost, to “understand that it’s going to be time-consuming and that you’re going to have to pitch to a lot of investors”.
The commercialisation process is lengthy, but “don’t be afraid to put in the time”, she adds.
“It could pay off.”
Schroeder also recommends working with a good commercialisation team “that know what they’re doing”.
UniQuest specialises in commercialising the IP of the University of Queensland, she notes, and know how the process works, including what kinds of challenges a startup might face.
In September, Uniquest announced it had helped create 100 startups out of the university, which have together gone on to raise more than $625 million in funding.
However, according to Cooper, startups shouldn’t rely on such support systems to put in all the effort required, or to do things right.
“Talk directly with the key opinion leaders to help refine or define your competitive position and alignment with commercial value creation and clinical unmet need,” he advises.
“Then talk directly with the patient advocates, and finally with the VCs and other sources of capital,” he adds.
“Do your own research in an iterative fashion. Then you will have a fit-for-purpose business model,” Cooper says.