Biota Focuses on the Future




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Video title: Biota Focuses on the Future
Released on: December 30, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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  • Summary
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As one of the longest surviving Australian biotech companies, Biota Holdings has a varied and high profiled history. Dr Leigh Farrell talks of the future of the company following the recent litigation process and settlement with GSK and how the company is back strongly focusing its resources on its drug discovery pipeline. For a cash strong company, like Biota, he sees the economic climate as an opportunity to build and he intends to make the most of it, seeking quality opportunities during his international travels.
Biota: Products pipeline and the partnering deals
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures Business review here in Melbourne, Australia. On this show I've Leigh Farrell who is Vice President of Business Development at Biota Holdings. Welcome to the show.
Leigh Farrell:
Hi Fintan Walton.
Fintan Walton:
Leigh Farrell, Biota is a company that was founded back in 1987. It's one of the sort of longest surviving biotech companies I suppose in Australia. It's also had a recently high profile both internally and externally.
Leigh Farrell:
Indeed it has, yes.
Fintan Walton:
Yeah, not yet throughRelenza but it has behind that story a lot of other activities, So the company is described as an anti-infective company so at the moment keeping Relenza aside for the moment just looking at the pipeline what's actually happening at Biota right now?
Leigh Farrell:
That is pretty exciting times so we've got a number of products in clinical development at the moment. We have a rhinovirus program which is a small molecule program targeting rhinovirus that's in Phase 2A. We have a respiratory syncytial virus program that's in Phase I, that's [PharmaDeals ID = 31109] partnered with AstraZeneca. We also have a second generation influenza product that's completed Phase 2A in Japan and that's with our collaborator Daiichi Sankyo [PharmaDeals ID = 13098] and underneath that we also have a discovery program in HCV which is partnered with Boehringer ingelheim [PharmaDeals ID = 25869].
Fintan Walton:
So all the products in clinical development are partnered at the moment?
Leigh Farrell:
No. No the rhinovirus program is un-partnered. The second generation neuraminidase program is un-partnered.Daiichi Sankyo has certain rights in Japan.
Fintan Walton:
And is that because that's it's your philosophy to take the product through clinical development all the way or when do you assume to partner those?
Leigh Farrell:
It depends on the actual products itself to be honest, with the rhinovirus product we believe we know the market is telling as they want to see the proof of concept before they're willing to partner that, with other programs such as the hepatitis C program there was a lot of deal tension at the time, we did the deal at its discovery stage. So it's really a product dependent on the partnering strategy.
Fintan Walton:
All right and are all of those products they come out of the research assets at Biota or?
Leigh Farrell:
Correct. Yes it's interesting because theirhepatitis C program actually came out of an acquisition that we did in the US. We acquired the platform technology in that hepatitis C program came out of that but other than that everything is organically run.
Biota moving into the direction of anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.
Fintan Walton:
Right and when you look at the portfolio tell me the company looks like a Virology company, but it has an interest in moving outside as well?
Leigh Farrell:
Yes, that's correct. I mean historically we have worked in Anti-bacterials that doesn't, it's not reflected on our pipeline now but none the less we have and so we are looking opportunistically at Anti-bacterials. We go shopping with the target product profile and we are looking at some interesting opportunities in that space and Anti-fungus.
Fintan Walton:
Right, so does that mean you are looking to in license more of these products?
Leigh Farrell:
Yes, yes we're looking at a number of companies but also individual projects internationally.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Leigh Farrell:
We've been in various discussions with various amounts of time on that. So we've think there is a lot of opportunities out there.
Settlement with GSK on Relenza.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. Biota is one of those companies that's got reasonable amount of cash.
Leigh Farrell:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
In the bank.
Leigh Farrell:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
And we're all living in interesting times, let's put it that way in the end of 2008 clearly that may be an opportunity for company like Biota, do you see it that way?
Leigh Farrell:
Yes I think it's important in that it provides us run way for survival which is important but it also provides with an opportunity to look, build out our own pathway, our goal is within the next 3 to 5-years to double the platform, we need cash to do that and we are getting revenue from sale of Relenza sometimes it's less than other quarters but none the less it's funding our pipeline by royalties.
Fintan Walton:
Sure right, that clearly the settlement with GSK [PharmaDeals ID = 21464] on Relenza was lower than expected, why was that?
Leigh Farrell:
Well in terms of the absolute -- absolute number, the number is the number and I think the more fundamental question is what is Biota's business and Biota's business is drug development and the board made a difficult discussion, circumstances have changed with the company. The court hearing there is a vacation with the trial date which meant to a date to be determined and so that would have meant committing a lot more resources, working capital, see the litigation and the board made a strategic discussion with our business is drug development. History will judge whether they are right or wrong. I think personally we got it correct.
Fintan Walton:
Right, so that leaves the Relenza issue with GSK to decide if you can get on to the business?
Leigh Farrell:
Yeah I mean and the relationship with GSK is good. We are talking. It's good. It's a very good relationship.
Biota appearance as an international Company.
Fintan Walton:
Right, right. So obviously as a company based here in Melbourne and looking at the biotechnology industry here in Australia itself, do you look at yourselves as an Australian company?
Leigh Farrell:
No, no. We look it ourselves as an international company and that has helped appear us as see as international.
Fintan Walton:
How do you define that? How would you, you know obviously you're based in Australia, but and you are listed on the ASX. So how would you look at yourself in Australia as a non-Australian company?
Leigh Farrell:
Well I think our market is the world. Australia is a part of the world but none the less where our peer companies are in and our major networks are internationally, internationally and that's where my directions are and that's where my businesses gets done.
Fintan Walton:
Right, so that means obviously you're out there travelling a lot.
Leigh Farrell:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
And looking to do deals. One of the things that some of Australian companies have looked at is to try and move out of Australia and that's part of the reason for my question. Do you see yourselves ultimately?
Leigh Farrell:
Potentially we may. We bear in mind we did have a company in San Diego that we sold, closed. So I think yes may be as a part of liquidity perhaps a listing on Nasdaq and there is a number of ways you can do that, you could perhaps buy a company and be listed on the LSE so I wouldn't say they are near term goals but we don't rule them out either.
Biota drive for quality assets.
Fintan Walton:
Just going back to this - this issue of the current climate and some people say well look if you are well funded company and you are recently well funded, you go out there and look for distressed assets, is that a view that Biota has?
Leigh Farrell:
No, I look for, my drive is quality assets always, and when I'm doing an analysis it cannot make a return on the investment so that obviously it does come down to price but the key driver is the quality of the product again we are not going shopping or go shopping with a target product profile and either you do or you don't need spec.
Fintan Walton:
Right and have you " and have you seen a change in recent times, let's say in the last 6 months or even a year in what is available out there?
Leigh Farrell:
I certainly get a lot more fund calls. The biggest is that a company will spend a lot of time getting to know our peer companies in the US and other parts of the world and it seem times when these companies are funded by venture money perhaps hedge funds and that " in tough times and they are coming to us. So it's a potential suitor.
Fintan Walton:
And is there an opportunity potentially to do other " to do acquisitions or are you -you specifically looking to do acquisitions?
Good companies will continue to get funds.
Leigh Farrell:
Won't say specifically. I mean we are actively looking at a number of assets and not only see Licensing or acquisitions as a tool to get access to an asset and the easiest way to get access to an asset is through a Licenses claiming.
Fintan Walton:
Right, right and then clearly you've also been as well as working for Biota you worked at GBS Ventures here in Melbourne in the past?
Leigh Farrell:
Right.
Fintan Walton:
Do you see from an Australian perspective that the industry here which is suffering largely because there are so many companies listed on the ASX. Is there a solution to a problem for biotech here in Australia?
Leigh Farrell:
Evolution, I think quality companies will always get funded and the reality is the biotech industry is an evolving industry, companies will die and that's just the nature of the business and so I think good companies will continue to get funded and companies that don't have a sufficient value proposition to get funded will die.
Fintan Walton:
Leigh Farrell, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show. Thank you
Leigh Farrell:
Thanks Fintan Walton.
Leigh Farrell
Vice president, Business Development
Dr Leigh Farrell was appointed Vice President, Business Development on 24 April 2006. Prior to joining Biota, Dr Farrell spent approximately 4 years as an Associate Director at GBS Ventures Partners Limited, a specialist Life Sciences Venture Capital Fund. Dr Farrell previously held the positions of Research Manager at Johnson & Johnson Research Pty Ltd and Chief Executive Officer of Gene Shears Pty Limited. Dr Leigh Farrell has extensive international experience in corporate finance, business development, licensing, relationship management and intellectual property portfolio management in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Biota holdings
Biota is a leading anti-infective drug development company, based in Melbourne, Australia. Biota's initial success was the discovery of zanamivir, the first-in-class neuraminidase inhibitor for the treatment and prevention of influenza.Relenza is used to treat seasonal influenza and is currently being stockpiled by various governments for defence against possible pandemic outbreaks of avian (bird) influenza. In 2008, Biota commenced Phase IIA clinical trials of its human rhinovirus (HRV) drug for the prevention and treatment of one of the major causes of the common cold which is also thought to be a major cause of exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. The Companies research pipeline also extends beyond respiratory diseases, including early stage research targeting the hepatitis C virus (HCV).