Australia has a reputation for living well on our fortuitous stocks of mineral resources in demand around the world.
But in recent years, a new generation of entrepreneurs has led the country into the future with developments in medical and information technology, green tech and biotech.
Companies range from venture capital and development stage companies to publicly traded operators that generate profits for shareholders.
Paul Naphtali, co-founder and partner of the venture fund Rampersand, shows how big the start-up sector has become in recent years.
“In 2013, the industry was investing maybe $300 million a year,” he said.
“By 2021 that had increased to $10 billion in Australia.”
Publisher of the industry journal Biotech Daily David Langsam said the sector is moving to a more commercial footing.
“Now 15 of the top 20 biotech companies have sales and revenue. They are not necessarily revenue positive, but they do have commercial revenue. That wasn’t the case 15 years ago,” said Slow.
This growth is reflected in the stock markets, where the pharmaceutical and biotechnology index is up 13 times since September 2006, while the All Ordinaries index is up just 1.38 times over the same period.
A new operator is Eugene Labs, which is bringing in-house genetic testing for a range of diseases and uses.
CEO Kunal Kalro, who co-founded the group with medic Zoe Milgrom, said they were inspired by the belief “that great health starts with your genetics.”
To that end, they provide people with “seamless and actionable genomic healthcare.”
Eugene Labs offers people the ability to perform a range of genetic testing at home so they avoid the hassle and time costs of unnecessary hospitalizations.
One test they offer is called carrier screening.
“It’s a test, done either before pregnancy or in early pregnancy, that helps people understand their risk of having a child with a serious genetic condition,” Mr Kalro said.
Once people have been tested, with the support of their genetic and healthcare professionals, they can make decisions about how to prevent the transmission of genetic disorders when it is possible.
If this is not possible, treatment for health and genetic problems can be planned.
There are also cancer and heart health tests that can be done at home.
When people want to use Eugene Labs’ services, they register for a saliva collection kit online, complete a detailed health questionnaire online, and send in their sample for processing.
Eugene Labs will send these samples to the appropriate laboratories for testing.
“We’re not a laboratory,” said Mr. Kalro.
However, it interprets the lab results into language that its users can understand.
Eugene Labs’ automated processes mean that instead of a clinic treating 3,000 people a year, “we can see 300,000 a year.” That’s because people do the testing at home.
The company started in 2019 and is still funded by investors looking to support its rapid early-stage growth.
“We could reach profitability in 24 months, but we want to grow more, so we’re going out there and raising more money to fund that,” Mr. Kalro said.
Another group in the medical space is Imugene, an ASX-listed company developing a range of immunotherapy technologies that allow the body to seek out and fight off cancer cells.
The company’s latest breakthrough is a treatment known as oncolytic viral therapy.
It involves genetically engineering a natural virus to invade cancer cells and replicate itself.
The virus kills cancer cells and avoids damage to healthy cells. This means that the cancer is treated with very few side effects for the patient being treated.
The company believes that this treatment, along with some previous developments, may also help arm people’s immune systems against cancer, which in turn will make it harder for cancers to reach the first base in the body.
Cancers tested with the company’s treatments include lung, pancreatic, colon and colon cancer.
Testing is progressing, but the company is far from seeing any cash flows.
Last June, the company lost $37.8 million, reflecting the high spending on clinical trials and research required to bring new medical technologies to market.
But founder and CEO Paul Hopper described the company as “in an enviable position financially with a long cash runway.”
That means investors are still raising money to keep the wheels turning. It raised $95 million last fiscal year and another $80 million on September 9th.
CEO Leslie Chong said the latest round of funding will “give us an unhindered runway to advance the numerous clinical trials that we are running.”
Ultimately, that will “translate into shareholder value and improved patient outcomes,” she said.
Although there are still people willing to provide money to fund the group, a shakeout in the biotech sector has hit them hard.
Imugene is currently valued at $1.5 billion in the stock market, but it was worth $2.5 billion a year ago.