Prof Andrew Abell launches Calpain Therapeutics to commercialise cataract drug
The innovators behind commercialising a world-first drug to slow cataract growth and to delay cataracts from forming, have been named as one of five finalists in The University of Queensland (UQ) Business Schools $100,000 Enterprize business plan competition.
The drug being commercially developed by Adelaide-based Calpain Therapeutics targets a protein in the eyes tissue. This protein, when activated by various triggers, including those associated with the bodys ageing, causes the clouding of the eyes lens, known as a cataract. Severe cataracts are the leading cause of blindness around the world. Although most cataracts develop as people get older, they can also be caused by diabetes, eye injury, exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight, long-term use of steroid medication, smoking and heavy drinking. The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness estimates that almost 18 million people are blind from cataracts. Many of those are in the world poorer regions.
Currently there are no drops or medications to prevent or reverse cataracts. The only treatment is to have the cloudy lens surgically removed and replaced with a synthetic lens. More than 200,000 cataract surgeries are performed in Australia each year and about 3.4 million a year in the United States. There are often long waiting lists in public hospitals for the surgery. Testing of the lead drug compound being advanced by Calpain Therapeutics has shown that it significantly slows cataract progression.
Our drug could be either drops or a cream that you put in your eyes each night before you go to sleep says Calpain Therapeutics founding CEO and Managing Director, Dr Tim Lovell. Through a routine eye exam, optometrists and ophthamologists can see the early stages of a cataract forming, likely before the person has any idea they have it. Once its detected, then you could start to use the drug to slow its progress. And because we know that if you have a cataract in one eye you will mosst likely get one in the other eye, you could start to apply the drug to both eyes, delaying the onset of a cataract in one while slowing the growth of the cataract that has been diagnosed. We see it as akin to brushing your teeth each day. You do that to prevent cavities. This would be a drop each day to prevent cataracts.
A large team is behind the development of the drug. Professor Andrew Abell of IPAS, Professor of Chemistry at Adelaide University, is a key inventor who has been working for the past decade on the class of compounds involved. Dr Lovell has previously worked on drug design and development with global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and was most recently a business development manager at BioInnovation SA in Adelaide. He says winning the UQ Business School Enterprize competition $100,000 prize would enable Calpain Therapeutics to do the crucial and much needed clinical experiments. We have ophthamologists on our advisory team who get very excited about what we are doing, because they havent seen anything in their careers like this to delay the forming of cataracts, and which also has a possible secondary effect in protecting against other eye diseases, Dr Lovell says. All five Enterprize finalists will be interviewed by the expert judging panel on September 16 and then have their final chance to impress the judges at a Pitch Day in October, to be attended by venture capitalists and angel investors, when the winner will be announced.