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An Australian company developing a chronic pain treatment based on research at The University of Queensland (UQ) has attracted US$45 million (AU$48M) to advance development of the drug, EMA401.

The deal represents one of Australia’s largest off-market investments in a private biotechnology company.

Spinifex Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, which was founded in 2005 by UQ’s main commercialisation company UniQuest, has attracted Series C financing from a syndicate of investors, including Danish venture capital firm Novo A/S and US-based investors Canaan Partners.

EMA401 is based on research led by Professor Maree Smith from UQ’s Faculty of Medical and Biomedical Sciences.

The funds will be used to progress clinical trials of EMA401 as an oral treatment for neuropathic and inflammatory pain, without central nervous system side effects.

Neuropathic pain (a type of nerve pain) affects more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain are most commonly associated with cancer chemotherapy, post-herpetic neuralgia (a painful condition that develops in some patients following shingles), diabetes, peripheral nerve injury and osteoarthritis.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said Professor Smith was an excellent researcher who was determined to ensure that people worldwide would benefit from her work.

“Maree has persevered for many years with a view to ensuring that her research succeeds through the rigorous journey to market and reaches the people who need it,” he said.

“This international investment is a tremendous endorsement of her mission, of Spinifex Pharmaceuticals and of the work of UniQuest with fine support from Uniseed.

“The funding reflects a well-founded sentiment that excellent researchers who are part of a purposeful commercialisation strategy can deliver tangible benefits to a vast community,” Professor Høj said.

Spinifex CEO Tom McCarthy said the investment validated the company’s world-class drug development capabilities.

“To have attracted significant funding from two of the best-respected investors in global biotechnology is testament to the quality of the science behind Spinifex and our development work on EMA401 supported by our long-term investors.

“We look forward to rapidly advancing our clinical program and ultimately to bringing a much-needed treatment option to patients with chronic pain,” he said.

Existing investors GBS Venture Partners, Brandon Capital Partners, Uniseed and UniQuest also participated in the investment round.

In 2013, UQ recognised Professor Smith as a top-five inventor and innovator.