The University of Queensland has made a commitment to the discovery and development of new therapeutic drugs. It will support the establishment of the Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative (QEDDI), an initiative driven by UQ’s main commercialisation company, UniQuest.

The Initiative will see the development of a pipeline of new drug candidates to meet existing and future global health challenges including cancer, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and infectious diseases. It will provide access to medicinal chemistry capability in addition to drug discovery and development expertise.

The dedicated drug discovery and development capability will draw on the expertise of Emory University’s Institute for Drug Development (EIDD), led by world-renowned Professor Dennis Liotta, and the associated successful and innovative not-for-profit biotechnology company, Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE), in bridging the gap between academic research and therapeutic outcomes.

Announcing QEDDI at the International BIO Conference in Philadelphia, UQ Vice Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the commitment will help bring UQ’s cutting-edge biomedical research to the world market.

The investment would enable UQ to build on its 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, Professor Høj 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.

“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 could broaden its offering over time.

“It is hoped that QEDDI’s drug discovery capability could be offered as a service to other research organisations and universities, 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 return 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 campus in St Lucia, Brisbane, which provides access to the specialist equipment and infrastructure required for drug discovery. QEDDI will be established in the second half of 2015.