New treatments for acute respiratory diseases

The technology

Researchers, led by Professor David Jackson from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology – Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, have shown that nasally inhaling an engineered TLR2 agonist can help respiratory infections and, in particular, viral infections.

Viral respiratory tract infection is among the most common illnesses in humans. Most respiratory infections are characterised by seasonal outbreaks, although some are prevalent throughout the year. Outbreaks usually occur during autumn and winter in temperate regions, while in tropical countries influenza viruses circulate throughout the year, with one or two peaks during rainy seasons.

Each year, around 3% of all infants aged less than 12 months are admitted to hospital with moderate or severe viral respiratory tract infection. Seasonal influenza affects 5–15% of the global population and results in around 3–5 million cases of severe illness and 250,000–500,000 deaths annually. Viral infections of the respiratory tract are also associated with 80–85% of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations with two-thirds of these infections being due to picornaviruses (mainly rhinoviruses). It’s thought that rhinovirus infection in COPD patients leads to secondary bacterial infections which are known to be a key driver to the exacerbation of the disease.

The partnership

The University of Melbourne has worked closely with Proffessor Jackson’s team to protect and develop their discoveries into a commercial opportunity attractive to industry partners. University of Melbourne Commercial secured a grant from Commercialisation Australia, with matching money from the University, to look at a potential market for this technology and assess the costs of bringing such opportunity to proof-of-concept in human.

In October 2012, The University of Melbourne announced a research agreement with Janssen-Cilag Pty Ltd. in Australia – a member of the Janssen Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson. The arrangement was facilitated by University of Melbourne Commercial.

The outcome

Under the agreement, the University of Melbourne will receive research funding to help advance the understanding of the potential of new early stage drug candidates for the treatment of acute respiratory infections.

More information

Michael Jorgensen