Last week the Federal Government unveiled a new $150 million medical research program to support radical stem cell research – giving the industry a significant cash injection.
The Australian Stem Cell Therapies Mission is targeting clinical trials in humans in the next ten years and is aiming to treat a range of conditions from heart disease to brain cancer.
Dr Ross Macdonald, Managing Director of stem cell company Cynata Therapeutics (ASX:CYP) gave Star Investing his take on the news.
“While some “stem cell” treatments have sometimes been associated with dodgy back-street clinics, legitimate stem cell products that have been well-researched and tested are about to get their time in the sun,” he said.
Mounting evidence supporting stem cell therapies
There is a mounting stack of evidence supporting regenerative medicine and stem cell treatments and it is high time that Australia got behind it.
There have been over 800 clinical trials using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) worldwide. MSCs are a type of stem cell that have very useful therapeutic properties that makes them ideal for use in regenerative medicines.
They have been used successfully in clinical trials and preclinical trials for the treatment of liver failure, spinal cord injury, graft-versus-host-disease, asthma, heart attack, osteoarthritis and many more life threatening and debilitating diseases.
A welcome initiative
“Within the stem cell research community, this new government program is a very welcome initiative and a much-needed one that brings Australia on level pegging with other countries,” said Macdonald.
“Nations such as the US and Japan have already implemented major programs and legislative initiatives to drive the development of novel stem cell therapies.
“This has resulted in many home-grown stem cell companies heading overseas for funding, collaborations and to carry out clinical trials – taking business and potential wealth away from the country.
“Funding for biotechnology companies in Australia can be a challenge. There’s a small pool of investors in the space that really understand the nature of biotech and stem cell-based therapeutics is still a relatively innovative and emerging field.
“The time it takes to get a product to market is a longer process than many anticipate and not all investors appreciate or comprehend the long lead times and the risks along the way.”
Whilst there are always opportunities along the development path to licence the product, many biotech companies and their investors live in the hope of being bought out by a much larger pharmaceutical company that can fund the product through to commercialisation and then reap the rewards.
This leads to many investors potentially missing out on some significant upside.
Aussie investors to benefit
For Australian patients, companies and investors to benefit from the upside of stem cell research successes there needs to be a supportive environment that nurtures this research and makes it possible for it to continue domestically.
“The programs co-chair, Professor Little, is absolutely on the money that we need to be developing stem cell medicine here in Australia,” said Macdonald.
“Government funding for biotech companies is so important and having the funding extend specifically to stem cell research brings Australia one step closer to becoming a leader in regenerative therapies.”
Many biotech companies, Cynata Therapeutics included, has benefited from government initiatives such as the R&D rebate.
Cynata has also been the beneficiary of the recent Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund and a phase two clinical trial using its proprietary stem cells to treat osteoarthritis at the University of Sydney will be funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia’s peak funding body for medical research.
Stem cells have the potential to treat a range of conditions and so much research has been done in Australia already that supports the development of stem cell therapies.
“This funding will enable biotech companies such as Cynata to accelerate its research and studies in the stem cell space and to look more to having those activities conducted here in our own backyard.”
“Cynata is always on the look-out for collaborative opportunities that will help accelerate the development of its stem cell products which have such a wide application,” said Macdonald.
Cynata uses mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are manufactured using a platform called Cymerus™. The first product has proven successful in meeting all safety and efficacy end points in a phase one clinical trial in the often fatal condition graft-versus-host disease (GvHD).
This new government initiative has huge potential to change stem cell research and product development in Australia for the better.
With so many stem cell companies heading overseas, usually to the US or Japan to progress to the next stage of development, this program gives stem cell companies in Australia the chance to flourish domestically.
Furthermore, it could provide otherwise promising researchers and nascent stem cell companies with the lifeline they need to progress and develop what could be life-saving treatments.
This content is produced by Star Investing in commercial partnership with Cynata Therapeutics. This content does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.
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