Using new technologies to kick out head lice

By the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science

Backed by the University of Melbourne, Hatchtech – a venture-backed specialty pharmaceutical product company – is bringing technology to control head lice into the real world. The results can affect both the treatments of lice and nits in humans, animals and agriculture.

The technology

It’s a problem many of us have encountered: head lice. These parasites live on the human scalp and feed on human blood. They spread through direct head to head contact, and most commonly affect school-aged children, their family and friends. Head lice can cause social embarrassment and ongoing skin irritation, which may result in loss of sleep and children missing school.

Dr Vern Bowles, Principal Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Centre for Animal Biotechnology in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science, has conducted research into these pests. The results show that an enzyme, called metalloprotease, is involved in parasitic insect pests’ egg hatching and life cycle. Certain compounds were able to disrupt the processes of egg hatching and survival through their ability to inhibit these enzymes working.

The partnership

From the lab into the real world, Dr Bowles’ research led to the creation of Hatchtech Pty Ltd, a venture-backed specialty pharmaceutical product company. Hatchtech develops technology for the control of invertebrate pests.

‘Hatchtech was formed with an initial injection of funds provided by Uniseed to determine the proof of principle for a new approach to treating head lice infestations,’ Dr Bowles says. The company’s investors include GBS Venture Partners, Queensland Biotechnology Fund, Uniseed, the University of Melbourne Endowment trust, Australian Super, OneVentures Innovation Fund and Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited. ‘The investment demonstrated the belief by Uniseed in the commercial potential of this technology.

The outcome

Hatchtech was able to attract significant additional capital with a key investor being the University of Melbourne with those funds being instrumental in assisting the company achieve its goals,’ Dr Bowles says.

Now, Hatchtech is developing XeglyzeTM Lotion, a head lice control agent containing a metalloprotease inhibitor that specifically treats head lice and nits. Both this and Hatchtech have very broad commercial applications, with the potential to affect not only human healthcare but also veterinary and agricultural fields.