BIOMEDICAL “KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY” COMPANY LAUNCHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND
The University of Auckland has launched a major locally-based biomedical company aimed at commercialising intellectual property developed within its Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.
Called NeuronZ Limited, the company has attracted co-investments of $15 million from national and international sources which will enable the further development and ultimately the clinical trials of treatments for acute brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
This development will continue within the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences through a research contract between NeuronZ Limited and Auckland UniServices Ltd which will provide funding of some $2.5 million per year.
Announcing the deal, The University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, said: “This is the clearest possible demonstration of how basic research undertaken within a research-led university can lead to the technology transfer that drives wealth creation in economies like Israel, Finland, Ireland and the USA.
“It is a tribute to the scientific career of Professor Gluckman and to the commercialisation activities of UniServices headed by CEO Dr John Kernohan and Chairman Mr Peter Menzies.”
As a result of the co-investment, NeuronZ Limited, which has been a wholly-owned company of the University since 1996, now has a shareholding structure that includes UniServices, Oceania & Eastern Group, Macquarie Technology Fund and the New Zealand Seed Fund. O is a New Zealand-based private equity group whose key principals include Chris Mace, Geoff Ricketts and Dr Robin Congreve. A new representative Board, headed by Dr Congreve, has been established.
NeuronZ Limited will be headed by Mr James Egan who takes up his appointment in September. Mr Egan is currently Senior Director, Licensing, Mergers and Acquisitions for G D Searle and Co in the United States. He has significant experience in global licensing and business development for health-related platform technologies. Mr Egan has also invested in the company.
NeuronZ Limited’s technology platform comprises neuronal rescue therapies developed by a research group led by Professor Peter Gluckman who is The Dean of The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. Neuronal rescue therapies are designed to prevent the death of brain cells as a result of injury or neurodegenerative disease. The technologies also include equipment already in clinical trials to monitor evolving brain injury and the effectiveness of treatment.
Professor Gluckman said taking the past four years of research to the next step required considerable funds and his team had resisted significant offers to take the technology offshore.
“Had we done so, we would have been further ahead, but we believe it is vital to New Zealand to keep the technology, the economic benefits and the employment opportunities for world-class researchers, that will come from this work.”
NeuronZ has established an advisory board of distinguished international scientists who will not only monitor progress on the research and the resulting clinical trials, but also maintain close contact with the research team. Professor Gluckman said having exposure to these specialists would be a further benefit to The University of Auckland and New Zealand’s research community.
Dr Hood said NeuronZ followed the classic model for start-up companies used by major international research-led universities. This was to identify an area of intellectual property and to secure co-investors to create a company that could take the new technology to the marketplace. In the case of NeuronZ, the University had taken four years to ensure the research and the associated intellectual property protections were sufficiently developed to attract investors.
“New Zealand does not have an established history in this kind of investment, so taking the time to advance the technology has enabled it to pass intensive due diligence.”
Dr Hood said the establishment this year of the NZ$16 million New Zealand Seed Fund had also been instrumental in attracting international venture capital to New Zealand. The independently operated fund was established by the University’s commercial arm, Auckland UniServices Ltd in April to invest in start-up companies in medical sciences as well as software, telecommunications, agricultural biotechnology and other innovative research. NeuronZ represents the fund’s first investment.
The New Zealand Seed Fund’s adviser, Jerry Balter of the New York-based Ulysses Group, and a Director of NeuronZ said today the NeuronZ investment confirmed that New Zealand has world-class research which had the potential to deliver significant economic benefits and to attract international investment support.
“There has been a reluctance to invest in this area and this under-investment has meant New Zealand has missed out on significant economic growth opportunities. Five years after formation, a typical successful biotechnology company will employ 100 to 150 people, mostly highly-skilled professionals. This is the type of opportunity we see in NeuronZ.”
The economic potential for neuronal rescue therapy is considered significant, with the diseases targeted by NeuronZ affecting large numbers of people. In the United States, for example, it estimated projected that eight million Americans will suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease alone over the next five years.
For further information contact:
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
University of Auckland
Ph. 09 373 7599 ext 4919; 021 664 100
BACKGROUNDER - NEURONAL RESCUE THERAPIES
The $15 million in investments secured by The University of Auckland in NeuronZ will enable the continuation of a four-year programme of research into neuronal rescue therapies, including advancing into clinical trials.
Neuronal rescue therapies are designed to prevent the death of brain cells caused by acute neurological injuries, such as stroke, head trauma or perinatal asphyxia, or neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The NeuronZ research team has discovered that brain cells do not die immediately after injury, but progressively over hours or days. This progressive death is known as apoptosis or “cell suicide”. The delay between injury and apoptosis provides an opportunity for intervention.
By focusing their research around this discovery, the NeuronZ team, led by Professor Peter Gluckman, has demonstrated in disease models that growth factors and small molecules have important therapeutic applications for both acute and chronic neurodegenerative conditions. Growth factors can prevent cell death if administered after injury.
Neuronal rescue therapies target both acute brain injuries and chronic neurodegenerative disease. With acute brain injuries, the therapies intervene in the pathological process that leads to cell death and assist recovery by augmenting neuronal function.
In the case of models of neurodegenerative disease, neuronal rescue agents are able to prevent the death of neurons that have been exposed to the pathological processes caused by the disease. They also enhance functional recovery, underlying their potential to treating cognitive dysfunction in ageing (for example, memory, reasoning, attention).
As the therapy uses the growth factors and small molecules that are the recovery mechanisms intrinsic to the brain, the scientists involved believe they may be safer than other therapies under development. The team has a group of agents under development, some of which are close to clinical trials in humans.
The technology developed by the NeuronZ team includes a Brain Rescue Monitor that tracks evolving brain injury and the factors that influence treatment. Real time information enables physicians to predict outcomes, decide on treatment and monitor the effects of neuronal rescue therapy. The monitor is already in clinical trials detecting brain damage in newborn babies.
Professor Gluckman’s team is already well known for its research into preventing brain damage in children who suffer head injuries at birth. About 1-2 in 1,000 newborn babies are at risk of brain damage during the birth process - leading to cerebral palsy or intellectual impairment.
Professor Gluckman’s team showed that that many brain injured babies appear to rally in the first few hours after birth, but later succumb to brain damage after brain cells commit ‘cell suicide’.
Their findings led to a team of scientists including the late Professor Tania Gunn, her son Alistair and neonatal specialists from National Women’s Hospital to develop a specially designed water-cooled skull cap. The cap works by lowering the temperature of a baby’s brain, preventing the death of oxygen-deprived cells. A trial compared asphyxiated infants who were fitted with cooling caps, with the progress of other asphyxiated babies who received normal intensive care treatment but were not fitted with caps.
The trial’s promising results demonstrated both the safety and efficacy of the cap, and have led to a major study currently underway in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A US company has now licensed the technology to sponsor the cap’s international trial. The cooling cap research was funded by New Zealand’s Health Research Council.
BACKGROUNDER - AUCKLAND UNISERVICES LIMITED
The University of Auckland’s subsidiary company, Auckland UniServices Ltd, provides the link between the University and those seeking a partnership with it. UniServices has an independent board chaired by Mr Peter Menzies. Dr John Kernohan is Chief Executive Officer.
Its role it to match the University’s extensive research capabilities with clients’ needs for consulting, professional and technological services. UniServices promotes the University’s research expertise, secures and manages contracts and is responsible for the commercial intellectual property arising from research. It patents inventions and works to licence these or to form new businesses around them. The company has played a major role in bringing NeuronZ through to the stage where external investors can become involved.
UniServices increased its revenue by 28% to $31.5 million in the 1999 financial year. Its performance has met and been benchmarked against international best practice standards. In its 1998 financial year, for example, UniServices was administering 1,485 active projects, attracted 653 new projects and had 57 active patent categories. It was exporting services and technology to 20 countries. In 1999, it attracted a further 261 new projects and filed 14 new patents.
Notable recent achievements include: -
The incorporation of EPTTCO, a UK-based cancer therapeutics company in conjunction with UK research organisations.
The US licensing of technology to roll form fibre reinforced thermoplastic sheets, along with the securing of an agreement for further research. The technology is applicable in a wide range of industries including the manufacturing of body parts for vehicles and aircraft and the forming of highway guardrails. It is world-leading technology producing a product that is non-toxic and recyclable. The agreement provides for a royalty on sales of items produced using the technology.
The licensing of technology involved in ground-breaking software to model the human body, including the ability to monitor drug effects on human organs. This involves academic staff and students in the Department of Engineering Science and collaborations between the University’s medical and engineering faculties and with international research universities. UniServices has ensured international funding which will enable this research to continue for some five years. Involved in this work are the US-based, Physiome Sciences Inc and Life F/X Inc, with a current market capitalisation in excess of US$1 billion.
To further its role in transforming research-led innovation into new business opportunities, UniServices launched in 2000 a standalone new seed and early stage venture capital fund. The NZ$16 million New Zealand Seed Fund has attracted support from national and international investors.
BACKGROUNDER - THE UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND FACULTY OF MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES
Established in 1968, the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences has an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Its mission is to carry out teaching, training and research of the highest possible international standard supported by quality contributions to health-care services aimed at advancing the human condition and the health-care status of New Zealand.
The Faculty has the largest sponsored research activity in the University, being responsible for some 60% of all research and contract income, generating significant intellectual property and contributing to the University’s ability to exploit the biotechnology revolution.
Within the Faculty are research centres and units focused on a wide range of areas including developmental medicine, health services research and development, Pacific Health, reproductive medicine, alcohol and public health, healthcare ethics and clinical trials. The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners Research Unit and the Goodfellow Unit are proactive in advancing continuing education for general practitioners. Funding sources for research include the Health Research Council, The University of Auckland’s own resources and public funds such as the Marsden Fund.
Of the University’s NZ$350 million in revenue last year, NZ$68 million was earned from externally funded research. Of this, $36.6 million was public-domain research and NZ$31.5 million commercial research.
The Faculty secured 40% of all Health Research Council grants between 1996-99. In addition, some of its research is funded by a share of the $3 million secured by the University from the $11 million of new money available in the inaugural round of the New Economy Research Fund.
Medical research funded by NERF is focused on structural genomics, new hormones from the proteome, vaccines for neurological disease, orthopaedic applications of bioengineering, software security and radiation-activated cancer prodrugs.
BACKGROUND: PROFESSOR PETER GLUCKMAN
Professor Peter Gluckman CNZM MBChB MMedSc DSc FRACP FRCPCH FRSNZ is
Professor of Paediatric and Perinatal biology, Director of the Research Centre for Developmental Medicine and Biology, and Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.
He graduated in medicine from the University of Otago in 1971 and following training in paediatric endocrinology in Auckland and San Francisco returned to New Zealand in 1980 to establish the Research Centre for Developmental Medicine and Biology funded by the Medical Research Council. The laboratory focused on developmental endocrinology, the GH-IGF axis and more lately, developmental neurobiology.
In 1988 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand for his studies in developmental endocrinology, and in 1994 was given the Award of New Zealand for his contributions to science and medicine. He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1997 and in 1998 was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand's premier award, the Sir Charles Hercus Medal. The British Society for Endocrinology awarded him the Asia and Oceania Medal in 1998, and in 1999 he served as chair of the Government's Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council.
Other awards in recognition of his contributions to paediatric research include Britain’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health 1998 Windemere Lecturer Award, the Stanley James Memorial Orator Award, Columbia University, New York (1998) and the Hippocrates Lecturer Award from the European Society for Paediatric Research (2000).
Professor Gluckman has published 308 refereed papers, 158 reviews and chapters and edited six books.
BACKGROUNDER - JAMES J. EGAN
Mr James Egan, who takes up his appointment in September , will head NeuronZ Limited.
Mr Egan (49), is currently Senior Director, Licensing, Mergers and Acquisitions for G.D. Searle and Co, a subsidiary of Monsanto Inc in the United States. He is responsible for global licensing and business development for cardiovascular and anti-infective opportunities, as well as specific platform technologies.
Prior to joining G. D. Seale & Co in 1993, Mr Egan was Division Counsel, International Operations for Abbot Laboratories, responsible for legal operations in Canada, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Mr Egan, graduated as a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, Washington, DC in 1972 and Juris Doctor from University of Santa Clara School of Law, Santa Clara, California in 1975.
Following his graduation in 1975 he spent nearly four years attached to the American Embassy, Tokyo as a Foreign Service Officer. He is also a former Associate in the law practice, Masuda, Funai Eifert & Mitchell Ltd and a former Trial Attorney, Foreign Commerce Section, Antitrust
Division, United States Department of Justice.
Mr Egan and his wife Amy Egan MD have three teenaged sons.
BACKGROUNDER - NEW ZEALAND SEED FUND
The New Zealand Seed Fund is proud to announce the completion of its first investment since its formation in March 2000. The fund together with several other institutional investors are investing a total of $ 14.1 million (US$ 6.5 million) in NeuronZ Limited. Over the next sixty days the investment is expected to be increased to a total of $18.5 million (US$ 8.5) million. Auckland UniServices Limited and key scientists and managers are also significant shareholders of NeuronZ.
NeuronZ is a biotechnology company developing treatments for various diseases and ailments of the central nervous system. The Company’s science has been discovered and developed by a scientific team at the University of Auckland led by Professor Peter Gluckman and is based on Professor Gluckman’s early work in neuroprotection. The Company is focusing its efforts on treatments for stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and other related diseases.
The board of directors of the New Zealand Seed Fund, led by its chairman Dr. Roderick Deane, has given its support to this investment and looks forward to announcements of other fund efforts in the near future.
The New Zealand Seed Fund is a venture capital investment fund dedicated to developing companies based on the science emanating from New Zealand’s research universities and Crown research Institutes. It is currently pursuing several projects at the University of Otago as well as the University of Auckland. The fund focuses its efforts on emerging medical technologies, software and other high technology industries. The fund is managed by The Ulysses Group, a New York based organisation that provides investment and strategic advice to emerging technology companies.
For more information on the fund please contact Jerry Balter of The Ulysses Group. E-mail: email@example.com or phone: 001-212-413-4475.