Industry support to fight fibrosis associated with diabetic nephropathy

By the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences

Expert medical teams are researching how we can use novel compounds to inhibit fibrosis of the kidneys and heart. This led to the creation of a start-up to develop novel drug candidates, which will benefit the biotech industry and the treatment of related conditions.

The technology

Fibrosis is not only an unmet clinical need for patients suffering from these conditions, but also places financial pressure on the health care budget and industry. Any drug that effectively delays the progression of fibrosis and diabetic nephropathy would significantly benefit society and provide enormous cost savings to the health care industry, especially in the United States.

Professor Darren Kelly – along with other scientists from the University of Melbourne, the Department of Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital and Bio21 Institute – have discovered novel compounds that significantly inhibit fibrosis in the cells surrounding the kidneys and heart. Fibrosis affects these organs because it involves the thickening and scarring of connective tissue.

These novels compounds are important, especially the lead compound FT011, because they delay the progression of kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy) and heart failure, as well as other diseases. Kidney damage or disease from diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease and is only treatable with dialysis or kidney transplantation.

The partnership

The discovery of novels compounds, such as FT011, led to the creation of the start-up Fibrotech Therapeutics in 2006, with Darren Kelly as its CEO. Fibrotech develops novel drug candidates to treat fibrosis as a result of chronic kidney disease, chronic heart failure, pulmonary fibrosis and arthritis. Since 2008, Fibrotech secured $A7 million in investment from Brandon Capital Partners, MRCF and Uniseed, which allowed the company to continue to develop its compounds to prevent kidney scar tissue in patients with diabetes.

The outcome

In 2014, the specialty biopharmaceutical company Shire paid $A81 million acquisition, and up to $A800 million in milestone payments, as it continues to develop the FT011 compound for kidney disease as well as other compounds for rare diseases. ‘The team at Fibrotech are very excited about this acquisition as Shire are strategically aligned with our commitment to renal and fibrotic conditions, including rare diseases – areas of high unmet medical need. This acquisition will have significant benefit to the Australian biotechnology sector and highlights the importance of commercialisation and collaboration between academia and industry,’ Professor Kelly said.