A new spin-out from The University of Queensland will develop a novel therapy for the growing problem of obesity-related liver disease with the support of an initial investment from IP Group.

Jetra Therapeutics Pty Ltd is commercialising a potential new treatment for obesity-related liver disease with a targeted biologic, engineered by UQ researchers, that reduces stress in liver cells.

The company is founded on intellectual property developed at Mater Research Institute (MRI-UQ) and licensed by UQ’s technology transfer company, UniQuest.

The breakthrough discoveries were led by inflammation expert Professor Mike McGuckin, clinical endocrinologist Professor John Prins (both now University of Melbourne) and UQ immuno-pathologist Dr Sumaira Hasnain.

Dr Hasnain said obesity was a growing and costly problem that often led to chronic disease and underpinned liver diseases such as Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

“NAFLD is typically characterised by excessive fat accumulation in the cells of the liver and can act as a precursor to more serious inflammatory diseases, such as NASH or the end-stage liver disease, cirrhosis,” she said.

“NASH is predicted to overtake hepatitis C viral infection as the leading cause of liver transplantation in advanced economies, yet there are currently no approved therapies specifically for this disease.”

Dr Hasnain said MRI-UQ researchers discovered in pre-clinical tests that targeting the liver with an engineered cell signalling peptide called IL-22 led to a decrease of fat accumulation.

“We now want to further optimise and assess the safety of the therapy, and subsequently undertake clinical trials,” she said.

“Today we start an exciting journey of translation from the bench to the bedside that will be made possible thanks to IP Group’s initial investment.”

Managing Director of IP Group Australia, Michael Molinari, said IP Group was happy to be working with its university partners across the Group of Eight and University of Auckland.

“This is IP Group’s first investment with UQ and we are excited to work with a strong, highly cited and clinically focussed research group to bring new therapies to patients and to collaborate with our partners at UniQuest to build and retain value in Life Sciences assets in Australia,” he said.

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said the company was thrilled the IL-22 biologic program would be further developed as a novel, targeted therapy.

“Obesity-related liver disorders like NASH are clearly an area of considerable unmet clinical need and a growing area of interest for big pharma,” he said.

Mater Research CEO Prof Maher Gandhi said it was fantastic to see MRI-UQ discoveries translated from the lab into a spin-out company with real-world application.

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