How UQ created a $700 million market for ‘overnight successes’

When Professor Ian Frazer launched his ovarian cancer vaccine Gardasil, it seemed to come out of nowhere. The same may be said for Ellume and its rapid test kit for COVID-19.

Dec 23, 2020, updated Dec 23, 2020
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But the two remarkable scientific developments were years in development, years more in research and a lot of it was in Queensland.

The University of Queensland’s commercialisation arm Uniquest is where a lot of the ideas get turned into commercial outcomes. It did the licensing deal for Gardasil and earlier this year one of its start-ups, Inflazome sold for more than $600 million to Roche.

Uniquest won’t discuss the financial outcome from either but they make up a chunk of the $700 million that has been returned to the university in the past decade through commercialising bio techs.

“It’s an amazingly hot space, or we think so anyway,’’ Uniquest chief executive Dr Dean Moss said.

“We have generated over 100 start-ups and when you get an exit from one of those start-ups they can be very significant, like the Inflazome exit.

“We get about 130 disclosures of intellectual property a year. We file patents on around 25 and from that we will do a number of licences and a number of deals each year.

“It’s a long timeline from when we see the research until the university gets an investment on it.

“They all look like overnight successes.’’

However, sometimes it’s eight years or more of work.

Inflazome came out of the UQ labs with help from Dublin’s Trinity University. It is developing potential treatments for a broad range of inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Roche snapped it up because of its potential and the likelihood of its product getting to market.

While the revenue Uniquest has generated is significant, it’s not the most important thing, according to Moss.

“It’s significant for the university but the impact is translating the research into products and services that address a market need is far bigger because it’s all reputation-enhancing for the university,’’ he said.

“It says to undergraduates ‘come and study at a university with the research that is leading edge’. That flows into the quality of the teaching they will receive and to attract further researchers and the prestige for the university in having outcomes like Gardasil.

“They are of far greater importance to the university than any financial outcomes we might make.

“All universities do it with varying degrees of success. We are the most successful in the country.’’

Earlier last month the dream of a UQ’s COVID-19 vaccine crashed and burned when its development was withdrawn because trials had revealed people were showing a false positive test result for HIV.

UQ’s moment on the world stage was over, but the result was not all bad because the vaccine worked and UQ made a decision to stop because to keep going may have had far wider negative implications for vaccines.

In terms of UQ’s reputation that was a plus.

“We stood up to be counted on the world stage with a candidate vaccine that went all the way through to a stage one trial and we had the capability to deploy that technology and take it into the clinic,’’ Moss said.

“The decision to terminate the advancement of that is something we understand. We have absolute confidence in the regulatory regime in Australia and worldwide and so you play by those rules.

“In terms of validating the technology, it worked.

“We produced a very effective vaccine and there were other considerations with the HIV problems.’’

Moss said there is a niche in the market that Uniquest has found an exploited with success.

“I think it’s the sweet spot of the ideas generated from UQ, which has a quality pipeline out of intellectual property to commercialise.

“We have the talent that can take the tech and translate it. We have a talented tream here who can package it and create competitive tension and get a good deal.

“We have a willing band of entrepreneurs who will drive that early stage technology. You have access to patient capital. In Australia there is a lot of follow-on capital but not a lot of early stage capital.

The Uniquest successes

Gardasil – now in use in more than 130 countries worldwide, the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine, based on IP licensed by UniQuest, has led to a decrease of approximately 90 per cent in the prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) worldwide, the major cause of cervical cancer and saves up to 250,000 lives annually. Licensed to CSL and sub-licensed to Merck & Co, and GSK.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technology – used in most of the world’s MRI machines, UQ’s signal correction technology corrects magnetic field distortions, providing faster, clearer and more accurate images in more than 9 billion scans to date, worldwide leading to faster diagnosis for patients and healthcare systems. Licensed to Siemens and GE Healthcare.

The Triple P- Positive Parenting Program – a multilevel system of parenting support designed to enhance parenting skills is changing the lives of millions of families around the world, with 62,000 practitioners delivering the program in more than 25 countries globally. Licensed to Triple P International.

Inflazome – a startup company using IP developed in partnership with Trinity College Dublin, Inflazome is developing potential treatments for a broad range of inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson’s disease.

QUE Oncology – jointly established with Emory University (US), clinical-stage biotech company QUE Oncology is developing a non-hormonal treatment for hot flushes – a condition affecting 75 percent of breast cancer survivors undergoing hormone therapy. The company has raised $21.5M in Series A financing and the drug candidate is now in Phase II clinical trials.

Protagonist Therapeutics – established in 2001 as a UQ startup, this clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company is developing oral peptide drugs as an alternative to injectable therapeutics for the treatment of blood disorders and gastrointestinal diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, which affects more than 6.8 million people around the world. Protagonist listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2016, raising $US90M in its initial public offering.

Bioclay – Nufarm, a global manufacturer of crop protection products has licensed UQ’s bioclay technology – a world-first platform for delivering RNAi as a stable non-genetically-modified and non-toxic topical spray for virus protection in crops. Crop viruses contribute to the pest and pathogen burden that reduces global food production by 20-40 percent.

NexGen Plants – a UQ startup developing disease-resistant plants by manipulating the plant’s genomes without genetic modification, aiming to help solve one of the world’s most pressing challenges: meeting the food needs of a growing human population.

Zeotech – ASX-listed resources company Zeotech Limited has licensed UQ’s novel approach to manufacture synthetic zeolites – minerals often used in water treatment and detergents. The mineral processing technology has the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and production time in processing zeolites from mining waste.

Pure Battery Technologies – a startup company developing a model to produce high-quality, more affordable nickel and cobalt battery materials with a lower environmental footprint than other methods. The company’s demonstration plant in Brisbane aims to lower the cost of production of electric vehicle batteries.

Bioherbicides Australia – a startup company developing a natural weed control that will help manage Parkinsonia, one of Australia’s most invasive introduced weeds. The fungal bioherbicide is the first to be granted regulatory approval from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

Vaxxas – a UQ startup company developing the NanopatchTM technology, a high density microarray patch (HD-MAP) vaccine delivery technology that offers the possibility of improved vaccine thermostability as well as the potential to be safer, more acceptable, easier to use and more cost-effective for the administration of vaccines than injection by needle and syringe. A long-term partnership with Merck & Co Inc has seen the global pharmaceutical company investing $18M in a combination of equity funding and option fees.

ResApp Health – a UQ startup company developing clinically-validated and regulatory-approved diagnostic tools that instantly and accurately identify respiratory diseases using a smartphone. Now ASX-listed, ResApp has achieved a Conformity European market and TGA approval.

EMVision Medical Devices – a startup company commercialising UQ’s portable brain scanner technology – a device similar in size to a bicycle helmet that provides a 3D image of brain tissue using safe, low-power electromagnetic waves to aid in the diagnosis of severe brain disorders such as stroke. The device is now being tested at the Princess Alexandra Hospital as part of a clinical trial and the company recently listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

BRAVE– an interactive, online, evidence-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) program developed specifically for anxious children, teenagers and their parents. In 2020, the team developed coping behaviours to deal with COVID-19-related anxiety and worked with the Queensland government to make them available.

GAI– The Geriatric Anxiety Inventory (GAI) is a self-reporting scale for the screening of anxiety, which is among the most common psychiatric disorders in older adults, affecting almost 20 percent of the older population. The GAI has been translated into more than 24 languages and is currently in use in more than 20 countries.

Latch-On – a nationally-accredited post-school literacy and numeracy program for young adults with intellectual disabilities designed to enhance self-confidence, independence and work placement opportunities. It has been licensed to community-based program delivery partners in Canada, Ireland and Australia.




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