A chronic pain treatment discovered at The University of Queensland is a step closer to clinical use with a global pharmaceutical giant acquiring the Australian-founded company developing the drug.

Spinifex Pharmaceuticals has been acquired by Novartis International AG for an upfront cash payment of $US200 million (about $A260 million), plus undisclosed clinical development and regulatory milestone payments.

Spinifex is a biopharmaceutical company founded by UQ commercialisation arm UniQuest.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj welcomed the acquisition and congratulated those involved.

“This is one of the largest Australian biotech deals in history, and is a stunning outcome for the company, the researchers and the investors,” Professor Høj said.

“Spinifex builds on the unprecedented commercial translation achievements of UQ, which includes the world’s first cancer vaccine, Gardasil.

“It is a shining example of UQ’s determination to take research from excellence to what I call ‘excellence plus’, developing a product that has potential to improve the lives of people around the world.”

Spinifex is developing the drug candidate EMA401, an oral treatment for chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain (a type of nerve pain), without central nervous system side effects.

The technology is based on a discovery by UQ’s Professor Maree Smith.

Professor Smith said the acquisition brought EMA401 a step closer to the people who needed it most.

“Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition, most commonly associated with cancer chemotherapy, post-herpetic neuralgia (a painful condition that can follow shingles), diabetes, peripheral nerve injury and osteoarthritis.

“It’s wonderful to see this deal eventuate, bringing a much-needed treatment option a little closer to reality for the millions of pain sufferers around the world,” Professor Smith said.

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said Dr Smith’s work was at the cutting edge of pain research.

“Her achievements and expertise have contributed to the formation of the recently-launched Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative (QEDDI),” Dr Moss said.

QEDDI, a collaboration between UQ and Emory University in the US, will see the development of drugs to combat health issues including cancer, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and infectious diseases.

EMA401 is a novel angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist being developed as a potential first-in-class oral treatment.

Professor Smith and UQ’s Dr Bruce Wyse’s research identified AT2 receptor antagonists as inhibitors of neuropathic and inflammatory pain in preclinical models.

Spinifex is supported by a syndicate of investors, including UniQuest, NovoVentures (Novo A/S), Canaan Partners, GBS Venture Partners, Brandon Capital Partners and UniSeed (a venture fund operating at the Universities of Melbourne, Queensland and New South Wales).

Media: UniQuest, Dr Mark Ashton, +61 (0)410 601 970; UQ Communications, communications@uq.edu.au, +61 (0)413 601 248.

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