Thursday 8 July 2021 5:09pm
Amaroq Therapeutics, a new biotech start-up spun out of the University of Otago, with one of the world’s most advanced programs in next-generation RNA therapy to target cancer has secured NZ$14m investment to accelerate development.
The study of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), often referred to as “dark matter” of the genome, are molecules naturally present in cells. Acting as key cell regulators despite not coding for proteins they have become one of the hottest areas of research globally. The emergence of new sequencing technologies has provided the opportunity to research these molecules further with significant investments being made globally into companies focusing on this area.
The Amaroq Therapeutics team, led by Chief Scientific Officer and founder, Dr Sarah Diermeier, are pioneers in exploring the use of lncRNA molecules as therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers in the treatment of cancer. They will be working on therapies to treat common cancers such as breast, colorectal and liver cancer.
“Through exploring patient data, our research has shown that specific lncRNA molecules are highly expressed in cancer cells but not normal healthy cells. Removing these lncRNA molecules from cancer cells can slow down the process of the cells dividing. This gives us real hope that lncRNA molecules could hold the key for treating many forms of common cancer,” explains Dr Diermeier.
The $14m investment was led by the life science investor, Brandon Capital along with Otago Innovation Ltd, NZ Innovation Booster and Cure Kids Ventures. The investment benefits from a Callaghan Innovation Repayable Grant administered by Brandon Capital, one of the four partners selected as part of the Callaghan Innovation Technology Incubator Programme. Amaroq is the first recipient of investment from Brandon Capital under the program and the investment also stands as the largest investment ever secured by Otago Innovation.
Dr Sarah Diermeier has extensive experience in the study of lncRNA, having carried out her post-doctoral studies under Professor David Spector of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (New York, USA), an expert in lncRNA research. Dr Diermeier has worked alongside pioneers in the non-coding RNA space globally which led to Amaroq’s research into utilising lncRNA in the oncology space. The study is one of the most advanced studies based on patient data in the pipeline in the world, and one of the first commercial approaches to target lncRNAs in the context of cancer.
“We have a world-class team working at the very cutting edge of an emerging therapeutic area, and that’s why we are excited to lead this investment,” says Duncan Mackintosh, Brandon Capital’s New Zealand Head.
“Knowing that there are very few companies exploring lncRNA for oncology purposes makes this an exciting opportunity and the fact that it could prove helpful in the fight against cancer, a disease area affecting so many, is compelling,” Mackintosh adds.
“We hope that our new treatments will significantly improve survival rates for cancer patients and are able to address issues such as resistance to chemotherapeutics. In the first instance, we focus on treating cancers with a high unmet clinical need such as breast, colorectal and liver cancers, which are major health concerns in New Zealand.” says founder Dr Diermeier, who is a current Rutherford Discovery Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.
With the founding research being carried out at University of Otago, Amaroq Therapeutics was created with the support of Otago Innovation Ltd. David Christensen, CEO of Otago Innovation says, “It has been a privilege to work with and alongside Sarah to form and secure investment into Amaroq. Through Amaroq, Dr Diermeier and her team has the potential to revolutionise the approach to cancer treatment and Otago Innovation is glad to support this project to reach its full potential.”
In April 2016, New Zealand joined the Brandon Capital-managed MRCF Collaboration, enabling New Zealand research organisations to become members and seek investment support for emerging technologies. Otago Innovation is one of six New Zealand members able to access capital, expertise, and networks to take biomedical discoveries to market.
About Amaroq Therapeutics
Amaroq Therapeutics is a Dunedin-based biotechnology company focussed on developing a new class of therapeutics that target lncRNA in cancer.
Long non-coding RNAs are a relatively recently discovered class of molecules often referred to as “dark matter” of the human genome. These naturally occurring molecules do not code for proteins but fulfill important regulatory functions in the cell that could be exploited as a new therapeutic approach for multiple indications. Amaroq’s research team has discovered lncRNA molecules that are highly expressed in cancer cells, and once removed, cancer cell growth slows. Amaroq Therapeutics is developing innovative therapeutics to target lncRNAs for cancer treatment.
Amaroq Therapeutics is funded by the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, managed by life science venture capital firm Brandon Capital Partners, Otago Innovation Ltd, University of Otago, Cure Kids, and NZ Innovation Booster. The Company has been spun out of research from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
About the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and Brandon Capital Partners
Brandon Capital Partners is a venture capital firm that manages the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), Australia and New Zealand’s largest life science investment fund, with more than $700 million under management. The MRCF is a unique collaboration between major Australian superannuation funds, the Australian and New Zealand governments, Australian state governments and more than 50 leading medical research institutes and research hospitals. The MRCF supports the development and commercialisation of early-stage biomedical discoveries associated with member research organisations, providing both capital and expertise to guide the successful development of new therapies. The MRCF has supported more than 50 start-up companies to date, most of which were founded by the MRCF.
About Otago Innovation
Otago Innovation is a University of Otago company responsible for developing and commercialising the University's intellectual property. They work with and alongside University of Otago researchers to develop research outcomes to the point of investor readiness. Otago Innovation Limited provide investment into proof-of-concept experiments as well as intellectual property advice and protection to assist in gaining the interest of investors and partners. Technology transfer can be through licensing, company formation, outright sale or other forms of partnership. Otago Innovation works on opportunities from all facets of the University, including projects on human and animal therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices, materials, engineering and software to name a few.
About NZ Innovation Booster
The NZ Innovation Booster (NZIB) is a partnership between Booster Financial Services, Wellington UniVentures and Otago Innovation Ltd to channel funding into cutting-edge research and innovations coming out of the universities.
By supporting these start-ups, NZIB helps Booster KiwiSaver scheme investors access science and technological innovations and share in the success of the ground-breaking research and IP development happening here in Aotearoa.
About Cure Kids Ventures
Cure Kids Ventures (CKV) is New Zealand’s predominant seed and early stage healthcare investment fund that invests in New Zealand’s emerging healthcare companies that have a potential to benefit child health.
CKV is owned by Cure Kids Foundation, New Zealand’s largest private funder of child health research. We have deep links to Universities, research institutes and organisations resulting from 50 years of private research funding.
About Callaghan Innovation
Callaghan Innovation is New Zealand’s innovation agency. It activates innovation and helps businesses grow faster for a better Aotearoa.
The government agency partners with ambitious businesses of all sizes, delivering a range of innovation and research and development (R&D) services to suit each stage of their growth. Its staff – including more than 200 of Aotearoa’s leading scientists and engineers – empower innovators by connecting people, opportunities and networks, and providing tailored technical solutions, skills and capability development programmes, and grants co-funding.
Callaghan Innovation also enhances the operation of Aotearoa’s innovation ecosystem, working closely with MBIE, NZTE, NZVIF, Crown Research Institutes, and other organisations that help increase business investment in R&D and innovation. The agency operates from five urban offices and a regional partner network in a further 12 locations across Aotearoa.