UQ breast cancer drug maker QUE Oncology raises $21.5m from Medical Research Commercialisation Fund

June 5, 2017

The Medical Research Commercialisation fund has led a $21.5 million raise into anti-cancer therapies company QUE Oncology, funding the development of a drug that stops breast cancer survivors suffering hot flushes during endocrine treatments.

The company was founded in 2013 as a joint venture established by Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Queensland’s main commercialisation company UniQuest.

Its hot flush drug, known as Q-122, has gone through a phase one human clinical trial, in which more than 85 per cent of women experienced a reduction in their severe hot flushes.

QUE chief executive Dr Rob Crombie, who has just joined the team, said the new round of funding would allow the company to complete phase two trials, ahead of a likely sale or partnership with a major pharmaceutical company for phase three.

“The breast cancer survivor trial in phase two will have 100 to 130 women and it’s a placebo-controlled blinded study, which is the gold standard. It will be run in Australia and we’re looking at sites at the moment. The other studies we have funded in the series will look at menopausal women as well,” he said.

“I think we’ll get to a phase where we’ll partner with someone for the phase three stage. A sale or a partnership are both potential outcomes for us and we know there is another company, Ogeda, in this area that was recently bought for €800 million ($1209 million).”

Originally Q-122 was developed to treat metastatic cancer, but during a human trail a patient ended up reporting that her hot flushes went away while on the drug and this led QUE to re-purpose the drug to be a treatment for hot flushes.

Research has shown that up to 75 per cent of women undergoing endocrine treatment after having breast cancer suffer from hot flushes as their oestrogen levels are reduced by a drug called tamoxifen to minimise the chance of the cancer recurring.

Of these women, Dr Crombie said up to 40 per cent ended up stopping taking it within five years because the side effects like hot flushes are too severe.

“These hot flushes can happen at any time and that impacts their sleep quality and also their work life,” he said.

“Women can get up to 20 of these a day and they also cause night sweats, so it causes significant issues and problems.”

The drug works through the chemokine receptor type 4 protein, which is expressed in the area of the hypothalamus, which regulates temperature. But much of how and why hot flushes occur is still unknown and equally QUE is still investigating why the drug works.

Dr Crombie, who has a 20-year history with oncology companies, including senior management roles with Prescient Therapeutics, Arana Therapeutics and EvoGenix, will be based in Melbourne, but the company is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also participating in the capital raise was the Uniseed venture fund, which operates through Melbourne, Queensland, New South wales and Sydney universities, as well as the CSIRO.

Managing director of Brandon Capital (which manages the MRCF collaboration on behalf of 50 research institutions in Australia and New Zealand) Dr Chris Nave said the fund had chosen to back QUE because the drug was meeting a need and had produced “profound” results to date.

“[The breast cancer] treatment market is in itself a big market … and there’s a very good chance that this could also apply to the menopause market,” he said.

“Having a drug that’s safe, has been used in patients and doesn’t have side effects is compelling. We do get investments like these from time to time, but it’s rare.”

The MRCF has previously backed successful pharmaceutical businesses such as Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, which was sold for $US200 million, and Fibrotech Therapeutics.

Yolanda Redrup
The Australian Financial Review
5 June, 2017

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