The Queensland Government has provided in-principle support for a new Queensland initiative aiming to discover and develop drugs that target diseases including cancer, diabetes and arthritis.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the establishment of The University of Queensland’s Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative (QEDDI) at the International BIO Conference in Philadelphia today.

“QEDDI will see the development of a pipeline of new drug candidates to meet the existing and future health challenges of people in Queensland, throughout Australia and internationally,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“It will target diseases such as cancers, diabetes, infectious diseases, and inflammatory disorders (including arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease).

“QEDDI will draw on the expertise of Emory University’s Institute for Drug Development (EIDD), which is led by the inventor of the world’s most widely-used HIV drugs, Professor Dennis Liotta and the associated successful and innovative, not-for-profit biotechnology company, Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE).

“Professor Liotta and his colleagues are renowned for bridging the gap between academic research and therapeutic outcomes, and now they will work more closely with Queenslanders to take some of our cutting-edge biomedical discoveries to the global market.

“Past State Government investments in biomedical science and innovation have supported excellent research, and it is now time to accelerate the move from lab benches to pharmacy shelves,” Premier Palaszczuk said.

Through a reinvestment of returns from its already-successful commercialisation activities, UQ will inject $30 million over the next 10 years into QEDDI. The State Government has already begun discussions with UQ about the structure of its support.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the Queensland Government’s support was a tremendous vote of confidence in UQ’s expertise in human therapeutics.

The investment would enable the state to build on the record of entrepreneurial scientists such as Professor Ian Frazer – who co-invented the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine – and Professor Maree Smith, inventor of the pain drug in Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, he said.

“More therapeutics are coming down the pipeline, not only from Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, but also from other UQ start-ups, Protagonist Therapeutics and Dendright.

“QEDDI will also enhance our existing partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, and enable more strategic partnerships in the future.

“The timing of Premier Palaszczuk’s announcement, at the world’s biggest biotechnology industry event, enables UQ and UniQuest to make the case for investment in QEDDI to leading biotech financiers.

“Emory is one of the world’s most successful universities in the translation of biological discoveries into treatments, and Professor Liotta is recognised as a world leader in the practices. He is one of the inventors of 10 drug combinations currently on the market. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of current HIV patients use or have used one of these combinations” Professor Høj said.

James W. Wagner, Emory University President said the relationship around QEDDI would be mutually beneficial.

“This initiative builds on the established goodwill between our two institutions. Emory and UQ share a common desire to translate our research efforts into positive global transformation, and this collaboration between EIDD, DRIVE and UniQuest will help serve this vision.

“Given their focus on infectious disease, EIDD and DRIVE will also benefit from UQ’s expertise. Our ultimate goal is to develop effective drugs for challenging diseases with global impact,” he said.

CEO of UniQuest Dr Dean Moss said with ongoing support, QEDDI’s drug discovery capability could be offered as a service to other institutions on a project-by-project basis.

“This would prevent unnecessary duplication of resources and infrastructure, while providing Queensland with the ability to leverage expertise and world class capabilities to translate local biomedical research into drug candidates, commercial returns and jobs for Queensland,” Dr Moss said.

Success for QEDDI would be the discovery and development of small molecule drug candidates, with intellectual property protected by patent applications, translated into new medicines for patients. It will be enabled through collaborative research and license partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. QEDDI projects may also be funded by venture capital, corporate venture or philanthropic donors.

QEDDI’s target selection process will be overseen by an experienced advisory board, including Professor Dennis Liotta (Executive Director, EIDD) and Dr George Painter (CEO, DRIVE), with business development and commercialisation driven by UniQuest.

QEDDI will be physically based at UQ’s bioscience precinct at its St Lucia (Brisbane) campus. This will provide access to the specialised equipment and infrastructure required for drug discovery.

QEDDI will be established in the second half of 2015.