Deborah Rathjen explains why these are exciting times for Bionomics




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Video title: Deborah Rathjen explains why these are exciting times for Bionomics
Released on: December 08, 2010. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, Fintan Walton talks to Dr Deborah Rathjen, CEO and MD of Bionomics Ltd.
Clinical trials at Bionomics
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here at AusBiotech in Melbourne. On this show I have Deborah Rathjen , who is CEO of a company called Bionomics , but also is Chairman of AusBiotech, welcome to the show.
Deborah Rathjen :
Thanks Fintan.
Fintan Walton:
Deborah Rathjen , I've said you are CEO of Bionomics it's an ASX listed company, tell us all about Bionomics , what sort of company are you?
Deborah Rathjen :
We are an ASX listed company, our current market capitalization is of the order of 90 million. We have four clinical trials ongoing in two different therapeutic areas all of these trials will report in the first half of next year, so it's a very exciting time, a very key inflection point for the company in terms of value creation and the execution of our licensing strategy around both of that two key assets.
Fintan Walton:
So tell me a little bit more about these four clinical trials?
Deborah Rathjen :
They are very exciting clinical trails, two of the trials are Phase II trials of our anticancer agent BNC105, BNC105 is a vascular disrupting agent and the trials that we have ongoing are in renal cell cancer that's a mutlicentre trial in the US. We also have a multicentre trial ongoing here in Australia in patients with mesothelioma. The other set of trials such as with our anti-anxiety compound BNC210 and those trials have just started in Europe, they have got very interesting clinical settings they both Phase I, but there is this close as we can come to doing a Phase II trial without actually doing I, we expect that those trials will complete this year and we will report data early next year.
Partnership with Merck Serono and partnering strategy
Fintan Walton:
You've got a partnership with Merck Serono [PharmaDeals ID = 30538] and that's around what specific compound?
Deborah Rathjen :
That partnership is around our Kv1.3 program, Kv1.3 is a novel target for multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders.
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so obviously with so many clinical trials going on there has to be a reasonable cash consumption for you where is that leave your company at the moment in terms of runway to over the next few years in terms of cash consumption?
Deborah Rathjen :
We currently have about two-years cash so we are pretty well placed. We have anticipation of revenue coming in from a number of sources including the execution of our licensing strategy for BNC210 and BNC105 over the period.
Fintan Walton:
And that partnering strategy is precisely what?
Deborah Rathjen :
With that BNC210 which is in development for anxiety and depression we are looking to partner after the completion of the current clinical trials, obviously moving into Phase II we'll be more comfortable with a partner, with BNC105 our strategy is to partner that program once we have Phase II clinical trial data and final data from both of the trials we have ongoing should be available in 2012.
Deborah Rathjen 's perspective :Current biotech environment in Australia
Fintan Walton:
Deborah Rathjen , you have the role of Chairman of AusBiotech as well, looking at the industry and you are running a business yourself and you've got your hands on experience of this, how would you describe the current situation for biotech companies here in Australia?
Deborah Rathjen :
I think the current situation is not without it's challenges, but I do certainly think that the industry itself is extremely robust. We are not used to having enormous cash boxes to run our businesses, so the GFC really didn't present that much in terms of an additional concern about rising capital, in fact the last year around 700 million was raised by Australian biotech companies and in fact my own company last year raised $19 million. So it's not as gloomy as in other parts of the world, we've still got strong science, we've still got very good management teams and most companies have been able to wither the storm, so I am very optimistic about the state of the industry.
Fintan Walton:
But I suppose a company needs to have something in clinical trials to get funded these days, is much more difficult for early stage companies?
Deborah Rathjen :
It is more difficult for early stage companies, but I think that also investors are returning to invest in platform place so in addition to saying our compounds in the clinic and validation through our licensing deals investors are becoming more tuned to having platform companies and that's I think welcome, a welcome return in investment style.
Value of biotech companies in ASX stock market
Fintan Walton:
Right, and in terms of the value of biotech companies on the stock market, and don't be too specific about you, but generally speaking how are they performing in relation to rest of the stocks on ASX at the moment?
Deborah Rathjen :
Well the ASX listed companies have actually performed very well, as an investment class people would not have lost money if they had invested in biotech over the last two-years and I think that's very pleasing to see. I think that as an investment class companies are maturing, we will see a raft of new success stories building upon the successes of the last couple of years with new product approvals and so on that I think will peak investors interest again in this sector.
Fintan Walton:
One of the comments that people often make about Australia is that there is too many companies on ASX that they come on to a market too soon, is that a valid criticism?
Deborah Rathjen :
I don't know that is necessarily a criticism it's a valid statement.
Fintan Walton:
Or it's a valid observation?
Deborah Rathjen :
It's a valid observation. Australian companies do list early much more earlier than their counter parts in Europe or the US and there is a really good reason for that and Australian's like to take up hunt, they invest in junior explorers in the mining sector and for them saying a small biotech company looking to rise money to explore new avenues for the treatment of cancer or CNS diseases is actually a similar paradigm for them so they are quite used to investing in that kind of situation. And I think that our VC investment groups are growing now and so I think we are less likely to see companies listing early, but you know it's conventionally something that Australian's have embraced investing in junior explorers whether they are in the mining sector or in biotech.
Fintan Walton:
Well and then for those junior explorers out there there is an expectation for those companies more or less to fail, will that be correct?
Deborah Rathjen :
Yes, there is an expectation that junior explorers in the mining sector out here there is risk attached to them. I think investors are also familiar with that risk and to some extent they don't see a difference in necessarily the risks that are inherent in investing in biotech where you know things may work a good idea may work or it may not. The other thing is that when a good idea works the returns are enormous.
Deborah Rathjen 's view: Innovation state in Australia
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so you know just finally in terms of innovation the general state of the you know reaching into the universities and the funding within universities, what's your view and what's the AusBiotech view of how the early stages the where the research and development stage occurs where the innovation happens, what's the state there in Australia?
Deborah Rathjen :
I think over the last couple of years we have seen less government commitment to funding early stage companies, funding spin-outs and really setting the policy environment that would be helpful in that setting. AusBiotech over the last couple of years has pushed really hard for a resetting of the priorities within the government support for not only the biotech sector but other areas of the innovation economy. So we've really championed the R&D tax credit, it's pleasing to say that is now again before federal parliament in terms of the rating of the bills and we will be hoping that those bills get passed, because that R&D tax credit, that new legislation offers some very significant benefits for companies that invest in R&D.
Fintan Walton:
Yes. Deborah Rathjen , thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Deborah Rathjen :
Thank you.
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).
Deborah Rathjen
Chief Executive Officer
Deborah Rathjen BSc (Hons), PhD, MAICD is currently CEO and Managing Director of Bionomics Limited. A seasoned biotech executive for almost 20 years, Dr Deborah Rathjen joined Bionomics in June 2000 from Peptech, where she was general manager of business development and licensing. Dr Rathjen was a co-inventor of Peptech's TNF technology and leader of the company's successful defence of its key TNF patents against a legal challenge by BASF, providing Peptech with a strong commercial basis for licensing negotiations with BASF, Centocor and other companies with anti-TNF products. Dr Deborah Rathjen has significant experience in research, business development and licensing. Dr Deborah Rathjen is Chairperson of the AusBiotech Board, and is a member of the Higher Educatuion Council (SA Government). In 2004 Dr Deborah Rathjen was awarded the AusBiotech President's Medal for her significant contribution to the Australian biotechnology industry, in 2006 she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Flinders University, in 2009 the BioSingapore Asia Pacific Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2010 Bio Innovation SA Industry Leader Award.
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 commercialisation.
Bionomics Limited
Bionomics Limited (ASX: BNO) is a leading international biotechnology company which discovers and develops innovative therapeutics for cancer and diseases of the central nervous system. Bionomics has small molecule product development programs in the areas of cancer, anxiety, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. BNC105, which is undergoing clinical development for the treatment of cancer, is based upon the identification of a novel compound that potently and selectively restricts blood flow within tumours. A clinical program is also underway for the treatment of anxiety disorders based on BNC210 which exhibits strong anxiolytic activity without side effects in preclinical models. Both compounds offer blockbuster potential if successfully developed. Bionomics 's discovery and development activities are driven by its three technology platforms: Angene, a drug discovery platform which incorporates a variety of genomics tools to identify and validate novel angiogenesis targets (involved in the formation of new blood vessels). MultiCore is Bionomics ' sproprietary, diversity orientated chemistry platform for the discovery of small molecule drugs. ionX is a set of novel technologies for the identification of drugs targeting on channels for diseases of the central nervous system.