A start-up supports the treatment of liver disease

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University of Queensland start-up developing a potential new treatment for obesity-related liver disease has secured an initial investment of $ 1.3 million from IP Group, an intellectual property company based UK.

Jetra Therapeutics Pty Ltd is developing a treatment with the potential to reverse liver damage caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

The company was founded on intellectual property developed by Mater Research in partnership with UQ (MRI-UQ) and licensed by UQ’s marketing company, UniQuest.

The drug candidate protein was discovered by MRI-The head of the Immunopathology group at UQ, Associate Professor Sumaira Hasnain, Professor Mike McGuckin, expert in inflammation, and Professor John Prins, clinical endocrinologist (both now at the University of Melbourne).

Associate Professor Hasnain said the drug candidate would be used to study inflammation of the liver at an early stage, difficult to diagnose and usually asymptomatic.

“Australian NAFLD cases are expected to increase by a quarter by 2030, suggesting a huge tsunami potential of future NASH cases,” Associate Professor Hasnain said.

“We know that NASH is the precursor to more serious end-stage liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“In fact, NASH is so prevalent in advanced economies around the world that it is predicted to overtake hepatitis C as the leading cause of liver transplantation.”

Associate Professor Hasnain said MRI-UQ researchers found that targeting the liver and pancreas with a modified cell signaling peptide, called IL-22, resulted in decreased fat accumulation and inflammation, as well as improved metabolic metrics such as glucose tolerance.

IP Group Australia Managing Director Mike Molinari said the company’s first investment with UQ helped launch Jetra Therapeutics in 2019.

“We are proud to continue this initial investment to bring potential new treatments to patients and to see this biologic developed further as a new targeted therapy,” he said.

“This is yet another example of the potential of great research being conducted at Australian universities to improve lives and create future jobs and industries.”

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said IP Group’s investment reflects the quality of research at MRI-UQ and its ability to grab the attention of investors.

“This investment is proof of UQ’s ability to work with the global pharmaceutical industry to address an unmet clinical need,” said Dr Moss.

The funding will allow Jetra Therapeutics to continue with its preclinical development plan, including testing the drug candidate in animal models.

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