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Super-backed company develops COVID treatment

A biotech company backed by AustralianSuper, HESTA, Hostplus and Statewide Super has developed a new preventative treatment shown to reduce COVID-19 levels by up to 96%.

The product, INNA-051, is being developed by Ena Respiratory, and works by stimulating and boosting the innate immune system. The study found that boosting the immune system this way limits the ability of the COVID-19 virus to infect the animals used in the study.

Ena Respiratory raised $11.7 million from a coalition of institutional Australian investors in a capital raise led by Brandon Capital, a venture capital firm that manages the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund; Australia and New Zealand's largest life science investment fund.

This fund is backed by the four aforementioned industry super funds, as well as Australian and New Zealand state and federal governments and more than 50 leading medical research institutes.

HESTA told Financial Standard that it has committed approximately $185 million to medical research through its investments with Brandon Capital.

"HESTA members work at the frontline to protect the community from COVID-19 and I'm incredibly proud that our investment in cutting-edge innovation like this could help keep them safe," HESTA chief investment officer Sonya Sawtell-Rickson said.

"Our investments in life sciences are supporting jobs and growth in the sector where HESTA members work, while making a positive contribution to their financial future and the communities in which they live."

Likewise, Hostplus chief investment officer Sam Sicilia said the industry super fund had been a prominent investor in the venture capital arena for more than five years.

"This extends to supporting the development of life-changing technologies, such as those currently under development by Ena Respiratory," he said.

"Through investments such as this leading Australian superannuation funds are developing and supporting an investment ecosystem that provides great benefits and life-enhancing breakthroughs for our society, while importantly generating the best possible return we can deliver for Hostplus members."

A spokesperson for the super fund said Hostplus had been supporting the commercialisation of medical advances through its investments with Brandon Capital and alternatives asset manager MH Carnegie.

Through these managers, Hostplus currently invests in various early-stage biomedical companies, including a company developing cardiac implants (Cardiac Dimensions), a wireless cardiac pacemaker developer (EBR), a needle free vaccination device developer (Vaxxas), a Parkinson monitor developer (Global Kinetics), and a company developing a medical device which reduces the usage of contrast agents (Osprey).

Similarly, Statewide Super said it had been investing in the commercialisation of Australian medical research for over 15 years.

Statewide Super deputy chief investment officer Chris Williams told Financial Standard this funding was critical to getting Australia's best medical research out of the lab and into approved products and devices for patients to use worldwide.

He believes Ena Respiratory's treatment could be made available to patients by 2022.

"If further testing is successful, Ena's therapy could have significant benefits, especially for those most at risk, such as frontline healthcare workers and the elderly," he said.

"We are very excited to invest in medical research that will, hopefully, contribute to providing drugs to help protect the world against COVID-19 and for our members to potentially benefit financially from the successful commercialisation of any of Ena Respiratory products."

Ena Respiratory managing director Dr Christophe Demaison said he is amazed with how effective the treatment has been.

"By boosting the natural immune response of the ferrets with our treatment, we've seen a rapid eradication of the virus," he said.

If humans respond in a similar way, the benefits of the treatment will be two-fold, he said.

"Individuals exposed to the virus would most likely rapidly eliminate it, with the treatment ensuring that the disease does not progress beyond mild symptoms," Demaison said.

"In addition, the rapidity of this response means that the infected individuals are unlikely to pass it on, meaning a swift halt to community transmission."

The company said it would be ready to test INNA-051 in human trails in less than four months.

Financial Standard reached out to AustralianSuper for comment but at the time of writing had not yet received a reply.

Read more: Ena RespiratoryHESTAHostplusStatewide SuperBrandon CapitalFinancial StandardAustralianSuperChristophe DemaisonChris WilliamsMedical Research Commercialisation FundMH CarnegieSam SiciliaSonya Sawtell-Rickson
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