Following the success of its Phase I clinical safety trials, University of Queensland (UQ) biotech start-up, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, has secured A$6.3 million in the final tranche of an A$18.3 million series B round to fund clinical efficacy trials of its innovative neuropathic (nerve) pain therapy.

Spinifex has raised A$22.3 million to develop a market-ready product since it was established by UQ’s main research commercialisation company, UniQuest Pty Limited, in 2005.

Spinifex’s principal technology is based on the discovery by UQ’s Professor Maree Smith, of a potential treatment for neuropathic pain (a type of nerve pain) and inflammatory pain. The lead compound, EMA401, is initially being developed into medications with the potential to help patients with neuropathic pain associated with post-herpetic neuralgia (a painful condition that develops in some patients following shingles), cancer chemotherapy, and peripheral nerve injury.

Professor Smith is also involved with acute pain therapies being developed by the ASX history-making biotech company QRxPharma Limited (another UQ start-up), and more recently, the Enogesia discoveries investigating the analgesic benefits of nitric oxide.

UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said the Spinifex investment demonstrated confidence from the financial sector in the ability of Australian university research to contribute significantly to global challenges.

“Modern lifestyles and aging populations in the developed world are driving up demand for pain drugs, generating a health sector headache for governments everywhere and a multi-billion dollar market. University research-based ventures like Spinifex provide vehicles for investors wanting to achieve both financial and community benefit returns,” Mr Henderson said.

“We are particularly excited about the developments with Spinifex, having worked with the research team since the small molecule discovery came to light in our inaugural Trailblazer innovative ideas competition in 2003.

“Leveraging proof-of-concept funding from our Pathfinder program and pre-seed investment from Uniseed, the venture drew support from fund managers GBS Venture Partners and Brandon Capital Partners to accelerate the research.

“Every stage of the clinical trials process takes the therapy closer to being market-ready, and ultimately to the patients who need it.”

The Phase II trial in post-herpetic neuralgia patients is expected to enrol its first patient this month, while further trials in peripheral nerve injury patients and cancer chemotherapy patients are expected to start by the end of the year.

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