The largest investment by the Federal Government’s Biotechnology Translation Fund has been announced, with a $22 million cash injection into a pioneering Australian company set to transform the treatment of kidney disease.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the funding boost into Certa Therapeutics at a dinner of leading Australian biotech figures in the US this week, with the contribution designed to support the carrying out of clinical trials.

Certa Therapeutics, with its laboratories based at the University of Melbourne, uses genetic analysis to identify the patients that will develop kidney fibrosis – the precursor to end-stage kidney failure – and respond to pre-emptive treatment.

The precision medicine revolution will save lives and spare patients from dialysis by using Certa’s treatments to block a receptor that is a key driver of the fibrosis.

Treating people with chronic kidney disease costs the Australian government about $1 billion per year, with 53 Australians dying from kidney-related conditions each day.

With its drug advancing to Phase II clinical trials, Certa Therapeutics CEO and founder Professor Darren Kelly said it could be on the market within five years, transforming personalised care.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be working in medical science. The amount of stored genetic material at our fingertips is immense. Access to this genetic data is transforming how we treat diseases,” Kelly said.

“Rather than creating drugs that work for the majority of the population, we can now tailor our treatment based on an understanding of genetic make-up. The implications of this for fighting disease are profound.”

Of the clinical trials, two will be conducted into kidney disease, with another on a different organ susceptible to fibrosis, such as the lungs, liver or eyes.

The $500 million Biomedical Translation Fund was created by the Australian Government in 2016 to help position the country as a global leader in the commercialisation of biomedical discoveries, and clinical trials are key.

Prior to the BTF’s introduction, Kelly’s previous biotech start-up, Fibrotech, was sold in 2014 to Dublin-based pharmaceuticals group Shire to allow the development of its kidney drugs through the mid-stage trial phase. Now, with this funding contribution, Certa is buying back some of the medications in exchange for an 18 per cent stake.

“In many ways this investment represents the raison detre of the BTF, taking great Australian medical science and providing it with access to sufficient capital to enable its continued, late stage, clinical development in Australia,” Dr Chris Nave, CEO of the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, which manages the largest pool of BTF funds, said.  

“The BTF was designed to be transformative for our local industry, providing the ability for research discoveries to be developed from concept to commercialisation right here in Australia, creating jobs and growing a sustainable industry along the way.”

Over $3 million is also being contributed by Uniseed, a venture fund backed by the universities of Melbourne, Queensland, Sydney and New South Wales, as well as the CSIRO.

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