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Medical Health Aged Care, Science

WEHI spinout company set to revolutionise homegrown cancer treatments

WEHI 6 mins read

Australia has cemented its role in becoming a major player in the next-generation of medicines with the launch of Ternarx – a globally competitive biotechnology company dedicated to finding new treatments for hard to treat cancers.

 

The WEHI spinout is the first of its kind in Australia dedicated to developing targeted protein degrader medicines and technology, a powerful new tool for destroying disease-causing proteins that cannot be targeted by conventional drugs.

Ternarx, which is backed by $15 million in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund’s (MRFF) Frontier Health and Medical Research initiative and by support from WEHI, has been officially launched by the Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, at WEHI today.

 

At a glance

 

  • Biotechnology company, Ternarx, officially launches as a globally competitive player in the development of next-generation medicines that aim at revolutionising the development of cancer drugs and other diseases.
  • Ternarx is the first tech company of its kind in Australia dedicated to developing targeted protein degrader drug candidates, with an initial focus on neuroblastoma and prostate cancer.
  • The company is backed by $15m in funding from the MRFF Frontier Health and Medical Research initiative and with support from WEHI.

 

Around 150,000 Australians are diagnosed with cancer every year.

 

While scientists have uncovered many of the drivers of cancer, about 80% of all disease-causing proteins have been considered “undruggable”.

 

New biotechnology company, Ternarx, aims at changing this statistic through the development of targeted protein degrader (TPD) technology, which is designed to destroy these “undruggable” proteins.

 

Unlike conventional drugs that only inhibit the activity of proteins, TPDs can target and destroy disease-causing proteins, completely removing the proteins from the cancer.

 

Ternarx is the first company of its kind in Australia, focusing on the development of TPD medicines and technology.

 

In 2023, the MRFF’s Frontier Health and Medical Research initiative awarded $15 million in funding to establish the Australian Centre for Targeted Therapeutics (ACTT) – a collaboration between experts from WEHI, the Children’s Cancer Institute and Monash University. WEHI has now spun out Ternarx to form a globally competitive biotech company and commercialise the ACTT technology.

 

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, said: “It is an honour to officially launch Ternarx, a significant and exciting addition to Australia’s growing, high-quality medical and biotech sector. The technology it is pursuing has huge potential to create the next generation of treatments for cancer and other diseases that are currently untreatable.

 

“Ternarx is proof that Australia’s health and medical researchers are world leading. With support from the MRFF, our brilliant researchers can turn their ideas into new treatments that have potential to save thousands of lives, not just here but around the world.”

 

Unlocking the ‘undruggable’

 

WEHI director Professor Ken Smith said the landmark initiative would help establish Australia as a leader in this frontier field.

 

“With the potential to unlock the ‘undruggable’, targeted protein degrader technology is one of the most exciting advances in drug discovery and development,” Prof Smith said.

 

“The establishment of Ternarx is a testament to the wealth of scientific knowledge that exists on our shores, and our ability to remain at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies that have real potential to make a difference to our communities.

 

“To have the greatest impact on human health, we need to continually drive the translation of our discoveries into the new homegrown treatments, diagnostics and devices required to ensure we can live healthier, for longer.

 

“We thank the MRFF for continually backing the nation’s brightest researchers, helping us to bridge the critical gap between discovery and translation and ensuring that we can confidently tackle our hardest health challenges.”

 

A new frontier in medicine

Ternarx will initially focus on developing new treatments for neuroblastoma and prostate cancer.

 

Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer that claims more lives of children under five than any other cancer, while prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Australian men.

 

Ternarx CEO, Dr Joanne Boag, said the company will be using and developing novel TPD technology to create new drug candidates and ultimately new ways to treat these cancers and, potentially, other diseases.

 

“Neuroblastoma and some forms of prostate cancer urgently need new treatments, as evidenced by poor patient outcomes,” Dr Boag said.

 

“TPD technology opens up new avenues to attack these and other hard to treat cancers by delivering precision treatment options.

 

“This technology could revolutionise treatments for the millions of people in Australia and around the world who continue to live with notoriously difficult to treat diseases, including cancer and autoimmune conditions.”

 

While the initial focus will be cancer, the TPD technology developed by Ternarx has the potential to be applied to a range of disease-causing proteins, including those associated with currently untreatable inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

 

Harnessing expertise

 

Ternarx will leverage Australia’s top cancer experts and research to progress new TPD treatments towards clinical trials, bringing together a core team with deep research expertise as well as biopharmaceutical drug discovery and management experience.

 

With further investment, the company has the potential to deliver significant revenue into Australia through co-development and licensing deals, with the TPD market size forecast to grow to USD $3.3 billion by 2030.

 

Through its Scientific Advisory Board and other scientific engagements, Ternarx will draw world-leading scientific expertise from Australian scientists Professor John Silke (WEHI), Professor Guillaume Lessene (WEHI), Professor David Komander (WEHI), Professor Michelle Haber (Children’s Cancer Institute) and Professor Susan Charman (Monash University). 

 

The Ternarx management team is composed of high-calibre scientists with experience in the biopharmaceutical sector:

  • Dr Joanne Boag, CEO
  • Dianna McKiernan, COO
  • Dr Nicole Trainor, Lead Chemist
  • Dr Bernhard Lechtenberg, Structural and Cell Biology Lead (part appointment)
  • Dr Rebecca Feltham, Target Biology Lead (part appointment)

 

The Ternarx Board incorporates senior leaders with a track record in governing and developing innovative biopharmaceutical companies delivering world-class R&D programs:

  • Dr Victoria Jameson, Business Development lead, WEHI
  • Dr Amanda Reese, Director, Enterprise, Monash University
  • Dr Chris Burns, Managing Director and CEO, Amplia Therapeutics

 

 

ENDS

 

 

Note to editors: Photos from the announcement event will be available after 3pm Tuesday 18 June at this link:  https://tinyurl.com/ternarx-launch-images 

 


About us:

 

About WEHI (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research)

WEHI is where the world’s brightest minds collaborate and innovate to make life-changing scientific discoveries that help people live healthier for longer. Our medical researchers have been serving the community for more than 100 years, making transformative discoveries in cancers, infectious and immune diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy ageing. WEHI brings together diverse and creative people with different experience and expertise to solve some of the world’s most complex health problems. With partners across science, health, government, industry, and philanthropy, we are committed to long-term discovery, collaboration, and translation. At WEHI, we are brighter together.   
Find out more at www.wehi.edu.au

 

About Ternarx Pty Ltd
Ternarx is building a discovery engine generating a differentiated pipeline of targeted protein degrader drugs against currently undrugged transcription factor targets in cancers with unmet clinical need. Ternarx will develop new protein degrader drugs through the coordinated efforts of two programs: 1. E3 Warhead Program generating a pipeline of novel E3 warheads by rationally selecting E3 ligases and developing ligand binders; 2. Targeted Protein Degrader Program with two projects aimed at developing targeted protein degraders against transcription factor targets in prostate cancer and neuroblastoma.
Find out more at www.ternarx.com 

 

About Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS)
MIPS houses over 450 researchers and graduate students across five major themes of activity in Pharmaceutical Sciences – Drug Discovery Biology, Medicinal Chemistry, Drug Candidate Optimisation, Drug Delivery, Disposition and Dynamics and Medicine Use and Safety. Therapeutically, MIPS strengths lie in neuroscience and mental health, cardiovascular and metabolic health, and global health. Major capabilities lie in G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) biology, synthetic medicinal chemistry, fragment-based drug design, ADME-informed lead optimisation, drug formulation and delivery (including nanomedicine), and optimised medicine use and safety in community and clinical settings. MIPS is committed to research translation and industry engagement and recent successes include the spin out/start-up companies Cincera, Septerna, Ankere and Inosi and significant ongoing relationships with local and international companies including Takeda, Servier, CSL, Starpharma, PureTech and Polyactiva. MIPS sits within Monash University’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, ranked number two in the world for Pharmacy and Pharmacology in the 2024 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings by Subject. More at MIPS.

 

About Children’s Cancer Institute

Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. More than 40 years on, our vision remains to save the lives of all children with cancer and improve their long-term health, through research. The Institute has grown to now employ over 350 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence. Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in hospitals as quickly as possible. By developing safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations, we aim to minimise side effects, giving children with cancer the best chance of cure with the highest possible quality of life. More at ccia.org.au


Contact details:

M: +61 475 751 811 
E: communications@wehi.edu.au 

 

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