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$13m investment to progress Australian ophthalmic drug trial

07/03/2018By Matthew Woodley • Staff Journalist
A US ophthalmic drug company will continue development of its viral conjunctivitis treatment in Australia, following a $13 million investment from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MCRF).

San Diego-based Okogen has established a NSW subsidiary ahead of Phase II trials of OKG-0301, which will take place at Sydney Eye Hospital under the guidance of Professor Stephanie Watson. Okogen board director and MCRF investment manager Mr Chris Smith said the decision to establish a presence in Australia was obvious.

“Australia has some of the world’s most talented clinicians and researchers. When paired with the Federal Government’s R&D tax incentive, access to patients for clinical trials, and the ability to undertake clinical trials quickly, it makes the country very attractive for Okogen and other international life science companies,” Smith said.


"Within the ophthalmology space there are other indications, even other viral infections of the eye, where a drug like this could be really useful."
Chris Smith, Okogen board director and MCRF investment manager

The treatment is an ophthalmic formulation of ranpirnase, a potent ribonuclease with established broad-spectrum antiviral properties that was initially developed to treat malignant mesothelioma. However, rather than target the virus itself, Smith said OKG-0301 would instead try to break it down at a cellular level.

“Trying to make anti-virals is really difficult. If you make anything specific then the virus quickly mutates and you can still get epidemic outbreaks. So, that’s a challenging task and the key thing that Okogen did was to flip that on its head and say rather than targeting the virus specifically, why don’t we target something that the virus uses,” Smith explained.

“A key aspect to any virus is that they’re very, very small, which means they hijack a lot of the host cell machinery, and one of those things they rely on from a host is the ability to make protein.

“The virus itself doesn’t have any of these protein factories that make more viruses. So, if you can block the human host mechanism, then you can also block the virus, because humans don’t evolve as fast as the virus.”

Should the trials prove successful, Smith also said that he expected OKG-0301 would have other potential therapeutic uses.

“Within the ophthalmology space there are other indications, even other viral infections of the eye, where a drug like this could be really useful. Whether it’s for herpes infections and those sorts of things, there are some pretty obvious uses for a drug like this,” he added.

The Phase II trials are expected to begin in the second half of 2018, and given the drug already has an extensive safety profile, if successful the drug could hit markets within two years.

Image courtesy: Flickr | National Eye Institute



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