Tracy Thompson, chief executive of Polybatics, has been here before. This is the fourth formal funding round the Manawatu-based biotech company has embarked upon since Thompson took over the Massey University spinoff in 2009.
"You never have enough money if you're a tech company. We're producing something to a pharmaceutical standard: it's expensive."
So far, Thompson has raised $3.8 million in three rounds from the Manawatu angel investor group, Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall's K1W1 early-stage company investment fund and the Government's NZ Venture Investment Fund. But the end is in sight, he says. The company reported revenue of $900,000 last year, has three contracts with international pharmaceutical companies, and four pending, and several large, international collaboration partners.
In a nutshell, Polybatics' technology allows it to grow protein-covered, biodegradeable bionanoparticles, or "bio-beads", cheaply and efficiently. The current beads are plastic, expensive to produce, inefficient and require toxic chemicals during manufacture.
The beads are used as an important production and delivery mechanism for vaccines, enzymes and monoclonal antibodies (the basis of many drugs), and in other industrial and medical processes.
One collaborative partner is evaluating Polybatics' technology in the production of insulin; another as a vaccine for hepatitis C; while Crown Research Institute AgResearch recently landed a US$100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to evaluate a new tuberculosis vaccine using Polybatics' technology.
The Polybatics-TB vaccine, if successful, not only has the potential to be far, far cheaper to produce, it won't require cold storage so it can be used in many of the poorest countries of the world, says Thompson.
Polybatics is seeking $1.5 million in this latest round to finish developing the technology and launch the product to a wider market.