Equity investment for the company, called Avalia Immunotherapies, is coming from New Zealand investment firm Powerhouse Ventures, the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, Malcorp Biodiscoveries Limited and Victoria Link Limited (Victoria University’s commercialisation office). Additional support is also coming from Callaghan Innovation’s technology incubator programme, in the form of a repayable grant, and the Kiwi Innovation Network.
The director of the Ferrier Research Institute, Professor Richard Furneaux, says Avalia Immunotherapies will further develop the ground-breaking technology and aims to progress it to clinical trials.
The research has been led by Dr Gavin Painter from Ferrier Research and Dr Ian Hermans from the Malaghan Institute, and works as a therapeutic vaccine, activating a patient’s own immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.
Avalia Immunotherapy’s chief executive, Dr Shivali Gulab, says the decade-long research partnership between Dr Hermans and Dr Painter has led to a powerful technology platform that has
been patented and licensed to the company for commercial development.
“The technology can be used to design new treatments for cancer, as well as infectious disease and allergy. Our initial focus will centre on cancer immunotherapy.”
Professor Furneaux says the potential benefits of the therapy are huge, not only for cancer patients but for the Wellington research community. “I’ve worked in this field since 1980 and this is the first time I’ve been involved in placing our intellectual property in a New Zealand start-up company—that’s how important this research is.
“This is also the beginning of what we hope is a birth of a biomedical initiative for the Wellington region—there’s fantastic biomedical infrastructure here, from research facilities to the excellent District Health Boards. We’re hoping Wellington will become just as well known for its biomedical research as it is for its film industry.”
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand