UniQuest : Dr Dean Moss. Identifying, developing and commercialising Australian research innovations




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Video title: UniQuest : Dr Dean Moss. Identifying, developing and commercialising Australian research innovations
Released on: January 16, 2013. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed at AusBio 2012 in Melbourne, Australia, Fintan Walton talks to Dr Dean Moss, GM for Life Sciences technology commercialisation at UniQuest
Summary about University of Queensland and its commercialization company, UniQuest
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here at AusBiotech in Melbourne, in 2012. On this show I have Dean Moss, who is the General Manager of Life Sciences at UniQuest based at in Brisbane, welcome.
Dean Moss:
Thank you very much Fintan. Look forward to having a chat about biotech.
Fintan Walton:
Indeed, and of course Brisbane has made it's contribution to biotechnology over the years, the University of Queensland has made their contribution of course, UniQuest is the body that helps to take that technology and to help make sure it is commercialized.
Dean Moss:
That's correct, yes.
Fintan Walton:
So how would you, first of all just in terms of biotech in general, and let's just look a little bit at Queensland as well, how would you gauge it?
Dean Moss:
It's a buoyant sector for Australia. I think that Queensland in particular has benefited from massive infrastructure support from The Queensland Government and Federal Government that was teamed very advantageously with Atlantic Philanthropies, so we had a period of tremendous infrastructure support for new institutes particularly in biosciences. So as a beneficiary The University Of Queensland has done particularly well in having world class institutes to support biomedical research. So I think we've created an industry, the industry is very much research based and it puts UniQuest as the main commercialization company of The University Of Queensland in a really prime position to try and translate some of those research infrastructure and research builds, that buildings always create an environment that people will come to, and the situation was always a very strong base of biomedical research in Melbourne and Sydney, and that Queensland has certainly come to the fore and so, you know I've been in UniQuest seven-years now and it's been a golden time really of capitalizing on a lot of influx, and postdocs, and research base and so it's a really dynamic scene in Queensland.
Fintan Walton:
Because in someways I suppose Queensland was a little bit late coming into this?
Dean Moss:
It was, yes.
Role of UniQuest in finding and commercializing research developments from Australian Universities
Fintan Walton:
And so the emergence of UniQuest was quite important, tell us a little bit more about UniQuest, because what is it that UniQuest has, obviously it's got you and people, but what do you need in a translational research commercialization company or group that makes it effective in getting that a technology out of the university and commercialized?
Dean Moss:
Right, I think it's multi faceted, I mean we've got 28-year history, and we've had strong strategic support and investment from The University Of Queensland and so your owner and main customer needs to believe in you and not have you as unnecessary evil of tech transfer, which tech transfer offices unfortunately are for lot of Australian and international universities. So we are part of core business of the university to commercialize research outcomes and that's been long-term support. So we've been able to build up critical mass and the right people with international experience, deal experience that can indentify opportunities, protect them and then produce outcomes. So we've had over 60 start-up companies, we are quite proficient at that early stage engagement with the venture community or licensing and we've got some nice successes which always give you that extra edge in terms of international capability, creditability of the you know the biggest thing for industry dealing with university is do they own it, do they have security around chain of title and it makes industry very nervous, because of the collaborative nature of the university based research. So we've been able to I guess reassure people by the outcomes, Gardasil was the one to note I guess that really seem to put us on the map that people went, which was sending a business development scout to Australia because they have outcomes that lead to international events like a major vaccine that Gardasil is today.
Business funding and financial strategies of UniQuest
Fintan Walton:
Right, but I suppose the, one thing I suppose you can never criticize is the ability for the individuals or scientists to innovate and coming with great ideas, now and then the next thing obviously is financing them and part of that is that passing through the UniQuest and then out into the big bad world where it can be commercialized, now one of the arms of commercialization is licensing obviously as you described, but the other one is finding finance, so first of all what is the role of UniQuest in finding finance, and what is the current view on financing for biotech right now?
Dean Moss:
I think the advantage we have is we have very good deal packages and I think that you respond to market pull, but everybody has got innovative technologies that they are trying to push into the marketplace, I think if you can get some draw from the market that identifies the year addressing an unmet need as we do with a potential therapeutic or medical device, and I think it's been to package them in a way that says we understand that it's early, it's got a lot of hours still to go but we will call it development and we need some funds to further develop that and we'll leave the traditional research base supporting the core understanding of the molecular interactions or what the core essence of the invention is continue to grant fund that, but going out and seek early venture funding, pre-seed funding to do development. So the outcome from a start-up company for us will still be a license, it's just a stage in the gestation that we need to do some deal and I think we've been pretty good at securing a early stage venture, again building up a track record of offering well packaged opportunities that tick the boxes of VC's around, it's got the right people, it's got an IP position, it's got a market, they not having to repackage it, and so I think there is a selling advantage to the way that we offer that to the marketplace, the way that we promote our deals and again the gravitas of having some track record of successful outcomes people become to trust you, especially in the pre-seeds space where most of it's a superannuation monies, it's been pension fund money which is leveraged and that will be our biggest requirement is to just attract leverage. If you take a preclinical to IND that's going to be worth 5 million, you don't want somebody to spend 5 million to give it the same inflection point, they might as well put their money in the bank, so you need to do better for people. So if you can use a combination of federal and we've had some particular attractive state schemes to leverage some initial pre-seed capital then it's a worthwhile investment proposal for people to engage in, the market has changed it's still not as good as it used to be, shall we say, but you just have to look further for that capital.
Financial sources from outside Australia
Fintan Walton:
Right, and when you talk about looking further does that mean you have to look outside Australia?
Dean Moss:
Yes and that's always been the challenge, because if you look at traditional US venture they see so many good opportunities they think why would we need to come to Australia to do it, but the way that we've approached at the Vaxxas deal we did last year is a syndicated investment with several Australian VC's, lead by OneVentures, we've done very well with attracting, like minded folk in the venture community that understand the space that they are in, in vaccine delivery, so that led us to Brandon Capital and the MRCF, that was very easily orchestrated because it's a close network in Australia where they talk to each other, because when we raised 15 and to do that requires some cooperation between the venture parties and we are quite happy to have a syndicated investment, and I think if you going to be bold and do these bigger opportunities you've got to go to that stage, and so that led us pretty easily into a discussion with HealthCare Ventures in Boston, now that's not somebody that we a venture group with tremendous track record that we would engage with, because we'd normally be seeking half a million to a million dollars and it's just not of a size that they want, but you go out and try and get 15 and they suddenly go, yes we are interested in that and it's worth a while participating and I think that's a great model for Australia, but you've got to have things of sufficient critical mass to need to require that sort of capital, but also the opportunity is got to be that big that, you require that capital because the outcomes it could be a very, very significant.
Venture arms of pharmaceutical industry in Australia
Fintan Walton:
Right, in the international market for biotech and financing biotech the pharma companies have set up an number of venture arms and become very active, is there any sign of that money from the venture arms coming in here into Australia?
Dean Moss:
There has been some strategic support. So we have an early opportunity in rheumatoid arthritis, with Professor Ranjeny Thomas, the Diamantina Institute that will come into the translation research institute and Janssen have come into that opportunity with strategic support and that's a move towards the venture arm of pharma where it's earlier than a license. Our exposure to those funds I think is limited in Australia, because we don't have critical mass of those opportunities, and if you turn the clock back Australia didn't have late stage clinical assets that was attractive enough to them, and now that we've got the Pharmaxis and then ChemGenex is in the therapeutic space is supposed to, we've always done well in the device space with ResMed and Cochlear, and you've got to see us all there as the giant in bio and pharmaceuticals, but for pharma venture they have to think it's worth coming and looking and Australia has to get better at presenting all of those opportunities at a level of maturity that wants a trip and serious due diligence, because I think there is still a skepticism that these things in Australia is a good research base but it's still too early for a mature pharma venture to plug there sort of gaps in clinical development with molecules and they do exist in Australia.
Role of IPOs and institutional investors in funding biotech companies
Fintan Walton:
And I suppose the other thing is we all talk about the IPOs, ASX, but in particular here in Australia biotechnology companies tend to get on to the stock exchange little bit earlier than elsewhere, what is the, again for our international audience, what is the actual atmosphere like for doing IPOs currently, and how is that affecting funding of biotech companies?
Dean Moss:
I think it was a market condition that early stage venture wasn't available to a lot, and people looked to the ASX as a fairly alternate path, a quick path, to raising sufficient capital to do an early stage development program. It was quite floored because they never raised enough capital and we littered the ASX in the biotech sector with under capitalized companies that are too earlier stage and the compliance costs hurt them badly. I think that we are still overcoming that, and so I think there has been a dearth of IPOs, but there is some movement with international companies now looking to Australia and thinking they can have a base in Australia, take advantage of the significant R&D tax incentives and list on the Australian stock exchange and do very well in those capital raising, so there has been more activity that way and I think that's a trend we will see. I mean we took ImpediMed and QRxPharma both to the ASX and raised a good quality capital with the right network at board level to assure the better class of institutional investors and that's what you need, I think it's difficult if you go out in biotech and get mum and dad investors who don't understand the long timeframes to be patient enough to standby small companies.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and you've never really passed over to the institutional investors?
Dean Moss:
No, but that's coming, I mean it still moves within the superannuation funds here to support so the MRCF and others benefited been in that direction of offering critical mass to people so this superannuation funds would get you interested because they've got a large enough portfolio. We have Uniseed, our own pre-seed at the university, so each of the institutions are trying to address that really early stage gap, so we fund our own proof of concept, but then we try and pick up pre-seed, and you've got to create deal flow, you've got to create a pipeline of investment opportunities so that there are decent brokers here in Australia that are certainly very capable of taking companies to the ASX, but you've got to have something that's worth taking.
Future prospects of Australian biotech sector and UniQuest
Fintan Walton:
Sure, sure and so where does that leave us I mean in terms of the biotech sector here in Queensland, Australia generally?
Dean Moss:
I started this conversion around buoyancy and I think it's very much on the climb, judged by outcomes, so by nature many Australia companies that have really matured over the last period and so you'll see later stage clinical assets doing big deals internationally and there is nothing like a quality deal getting people really interested, Vaxxas with one year into a 15 million raise for Series A out of the university announced our deal [Deal no. 16438] with Merck, now those things ten even five-years ago were very rare events in the Australian psyche of biotech, and I think that people are setting a much higher stake now, there is quality management that's coming internationally a lot, there is some home grown talent, quality of the boards, the offering is just much more mature and I think people have to look at the Australian biotech industry and say it's still a young culture, it needs to see with some success and that's going to take a little bit longer, but certainly there is some terrific outcomes that people are now going you know these are really well priced assets in Australia that are making a difference, and you look at pharma's need and you go Australia is not a bad place to go shopping.
Fintan Walton:
So Dean, when you look at the UniQuest portfolio what do you see as the winners coming through?
Dean Moss:
Without doubt Spinifex we've just had a clear Phase II med, primary and secondary endpoints in neuropathic pain that's exciting, we've raised just over 20 million to do that, so I think it's proven the model for us very capital efficient opportunity to take a leading preclinical molecule from Maree Smith the founder of QRx and so you are getting track record of people, you want serial entrepreneurship, serial innovation and capital efficiency, maximum leverage and a stunning clinical result, so I think that's a very exciting prospect for us.
Fintan Walton:
Dean Moss, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Dean Moss:
Thank you very much for the opportunity, I've enjoyed it.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Dean Moss
GM for Life Sciences Technology Commercialization
At the time of this PTV interview Dean Moss serves as Technology Commercialization General Manager (Life Sciences) at UniQuest. Dean Moss has over 25 years' experience in science, academia, business, management and commercialization in Australia, USA and the UK. He has been managing director or senior business development executive of several health and biotech companies worldwide, including Agen Biomedical, Launch Diagnostics, AMRAD ICT, AMRAD Biotech, and United Drug. He established his own start-up business in the UK, York Medical Technologies. Prior to moving into the commercial world, Dean was principal R&D scientist at Agen Biomedical. He also worked as an NH&MRC research scientist at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, the Royal Brisbane Hospital and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. He is a recipient of the Campion-Ma-Playoust Memorial Award for Medical Research. Dean is a board member of several Australian companies and a member of the investment committee of the pre-seed venture funds Uniseed, the Medical Research Commercialization Fund and the New Zealand Government's KiwiNet. He has contributed to raising over $50m in venture capital investment.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialization.
UniQuest
UniQuest Pty Ltd., a research commercialization company, identifies, develops, and commercializes Australian research innovations and facilities for industry, business, global communities, researchers, consultants, and collaborative partners. It develops and implements solutions to fast track research developments to the marketplace; and identifies and manages technologies and innovations with commercial potential. The company also provides contract research services, which include corrosion and environmental degradation, environmental conditions integral for agricultural investment, emission tests and recommendations, evaluating a project's specifications and testing protocols, identifying an unknown substance residue, production processes, materials investigation and characterization, metals and non-metals, mineral analysis, and sample material testing of textiles and fibres. In addition, it offers consultancy and expert opinion services that facilitate consulting and research projects for private and non-profit sector clients in fields of environmental, construction, legal, mining and resources, healthcare, transport, energy, and education. Further, the company designs, manages, and delivers technical assistance for developing communities in the Asia Pacific region. Furthermore, it offers services for researchers, which include assistance and structured programs to engage and accelerate the transfer ideas into products and services. UniQuest serves private, government, and non-profit sectors in Australia and internationally. The company was founded in 1983 and is based in St. Lucia, Australia. UniQuest Pty Ltd. operates as a subsidiary of University of Queensland.