Health & Wellbeing

Getting by with a little help from our friends

Published Sep 17, 2020

As New Zealand’s world-leading, independent biomedical research institute, the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research focuses on harnessing the power of the immune system to improve human health.

But when their commercialisation manager was seconded to the Government’s COVID-19 vaccine response earlier this year, they needed someone who could seamlessly step in to assist with maintaining momentum on their projects—and continue propelling their ground-breaking research out into the world where it can have the most impact. 

Hamish Findlay, Wellington UniVentures’ General Manager—Commercialisation, immediately spotted the opportunity to strengthen an already tight-knit relationship with the Malaghan Institute, by offering to re-deploy the company’s own resource—in the form of Senior Commercialisation Manager, Jeremy Jones—to work with their team for two days a week.

“We were the obvious choice to assist,” says Hamish. “Not only are we physically located right next door to each other, we already work closely with academics who sit between our two organisations.” He cites the example of Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor Gavin Painter, who is also Chief Technology Officer for Avalia Immunotherapies, a Wellington UniVentures spin-out company formed from a joint research programme with the Malaghan.

An organic chemist by trade, Jeremy’s extensive biotech background and experience in pharmaceuticals and human health made him the perfect person to pick up the Malaghan’s commercialisation projects and ‘hit the ground running’ very quickly.

“A lot of Malaghan projects are at clinical-trial stage which is exciting, and quite a bit different to my work at UniVentures which usually involves more early-stage research,” says Jeremy, whose usual project work is being supported by new recruit Andrew Cameron while he is on contract to Malaghan. “It’s definitely a steep learning curve getting stuck into ‘clinical-ready’ projects, but I’m really enjoying it.”

He says it’s also an opportunity to work directly for an organisation he’s had indirect links with for years.

“I started my science career at GlycoSyn, who partner with the Malaghan Institute to work on developing synthetic cancer vaccines,” says Jeremy. “And my Masters was based on immune-active glycolipid compounds similar to those that ultimately led to the creation of Avalia Immunotherapies.”

Jeremy says he is looking at the intellectual property (IP) position of each project before determining how to best use competitive advantage to build a pipeline of products, and then establish the best commercial pathways to market.

One project involves a hookworm therapy study which is exploring the use of clinical-grade hookworms as a way to modify the immune system and control a range of allergic inflammatory diseases. “My first job is to explore the regulatory requirements involved in producing these types of worms for human therapy.”

Jeremy says he is also looking at commercial opportunities for another discovery by Malaghan Institute scientists—who, this time, have unlocked the secrets behind phototherapy in allergic skin disease, ultimately making it more effective for those suffering from such conditions.

He says that directly working for Malaghan allows him to see their work from a deeper level, and expects that the experience will breed opportunities for future collaborations that could lead to “some really great products that could help a lot of people”.

“Avalia Immunotherapies is a shining example of what happens when you collaborate and combine resources across organisations to get promising technologies to market.” 

Mike Zablocki, the Malaghan Institute’s General Manager, agrees. “We have worked so well with UniVentures over the years that it was quite natural to have them step into the gap for us. I knew they’d be up-to-speed from the start, so I didn’t have to think twice about it.”

For further information on Wellington UniVentures’ third-party, fee-for-service commercialisation services, please email Hamish Findlay or call him on +64 21 618 069.