NZ biotech raises $29m for tissue repair research

Biotechnology company CoDa Therapeutics Inc said today it had closed the second half of its initial round of venture capital funding that has raised US$20 million ($29 million).

The funding by United States-based Domain Associates and Australia-based GBS Ventures would allow clinical trials of its pioneering tissue repair drug to begin by the end of this year.

The first investment of US$10 million, made by Domain, was announced in October last year with negotiations on the second round concluded in mid-January.

Clinical trials of its wound care technology, Nexagon, would be run by New Zealand sister company, CodaTherapeutics (NZ).

Chief executive Brad Duft said the investment gave CoDa the funds needed to develop Nexagon over the next 2-1/2 years and meant the company could stop pursuing financing for a period and focus on running clinical trials.

CoDa would meet FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) officials in early March and Mr Duft was hopeful dosing patients in New Zealand could get underway in December.

Manufacture of the drug had already begun.

Four clinical sites in New Zealand are being considered for the trials -- two in Auckland and one each in Wellington and Christchurch. One or two will ultimately be selected.

Nexagon was developed by Colin Green, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Auckland, in collaboration with David Becker at University College London.

The two scientists co-founded both CoDa. The US unit is spearheading commercial development while research remains in New Zealand and the UK.

Mr Duft said securing the venture capital investment was a significant achievement, given the string of failures with wound healing products to date. Many had tried and failed.

"Most drug development efforts to date have unsuccessfully tried to induce tissue growth in the face of the large genetic cascade that occurs when cells are damaged.

"We have taken a completely different approach which aims to shut down a single protein for just a few hours and then let the body take over and heal the wound naturally."

The first trial would be for acceleration of healing eyes following laser refractive surgery, where faster closing of the wound is needed to accelerate visual recovery and prevent a build up of scar tissue which can cause vision defects.

Preclinical studies showed Nexagon dramatically improved wound healing, with a single application reducing tissue death, swelling, inflammation and scarring; and accelerating time to wound closure. A second clinical trial will focus on skin wounds.

Dr Green said CoDa was committed to helping build biopharmaceutical capability in New Zealand. It had already hired two researchers and expected those to soon be joined by another.

Mr Duft first came to New Zealand in 2004 as a guest of the World Class New Zealand Programme, run by NZ Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

The plan was to commercialise Nexagon by 2010.

- NZPA

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