$14m invested in world-leading RNA therapy: University of Otago spinout targeting new cancer treatments

Amaroq Therapeutics, a new biotech start-up spun out of the University of Otago, with one of the world’s most advanced programs in next-generation RNA therapy to target cancer has secured NZ$14m investment to accelerate development.

Sarah Diermeier image

Dr Sarah Diermeier.

The study of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), often referred to as “dark matter” of the genome, are molecules naturally present in cells. Acting as key cell regulators despite not coding for proteins they have become one of the hottest areas of research globally. The emergence of new sequencing technologies has provided the opportunity to research these molecules further with significant investments being made globally into companies focusing on this area.

The Amaroq Therapeutics team, led by Chief Scientific Officer and founder, Dr Sarah Diermeier, are pioneers in exploring the use of lncRNA molecules as therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers in the treatment of cancer. They will be working on therapies to treat common cancers such as breast, colorectal and liver cancer.

“Through exploring patient data, our research has shown that specific lncRNA molecules are highly expressed in cancer cells but not normal healthy cells. Removing these lncRNA molecules from cancer cells can slow down the process of the cells dividing. This gives us real hope that lncRNA molecules could hold the key for treating many forms of common cancer,” explains Dr Diermeier.

The $14m investment was led by the life science investor, Brandon Capital along with Otago Innovation Ltd, NZ Innovation Booster and Cure Kids Ventures. The investment benefits from a Callaghan Innovation Repayable Grant administered by Brandon Capital, one of the four partners selected as part of the Callaghan Innovation Technology Incubator Programme. Amaroq is the first recipient of investment from Brandon Capital under the program and the investment also stands as the largest investment ever secured by Otago Innovation.

Dr Sarah Diermeier has extensive experience in the study of lncRNA, having carried out her post-doctoral studies under Professor David Spector of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (New York, USA), an expert in lncRNA research. Dr Diermeier has worked alongside pioneers in the non-coding RNA space globally which led to Amaroq’s research into utilising lncRNA in the oncology space. The study is one of the most advanced studies based on patient data in the pipeline in the world, and one of the first commercial approaches to target lncRNAs in the context of cancer.

“We have a world-class team working at the very cutting edge of an emerging therapeutic area, and that’s why we are excited to lead this investment,” says Duncan Mackintosh, Brandon Capital’s New Zealand Head.

“Knowing that there are very few companies exploring lncRNA for oncology purposes makes this an exciting opportunity and the fact that it could prove helpful in the fight against cancer, a disease area affecting so many, is compelling,” Mackintosh adds.

“We hope that our new treatments will significantly improve survival rates for cancer patients and are able to address issues such as resistance to chemotherapeutics. In the first instance, we focus on treating cancers with a high unmet clinical need such as breast, colorectal and liver cancers, which are major health concerns in New Zealand.” says founder Dr Diermeier, who is a current Rutherford Discovery Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

With the founding research being carried out at University of Otago, Amaroq Therapeutics was created with the support of Otago Innovation Ltd. David Christensen, CEO of Otago Innovation says, “It has been a privilege to work with and alongside Sarah to form and secure investment into Amaroq. Through Amaroq, Dr Diermeier and her team has the potential to revolutionise the approach to cancer treatment and Otago Innovation is glad to support this project to reach its full potential.”

In April 2016, New Zealand joined the Brandon Capital-managed MRCF Collaboration, enabling New Zealand research organisations to become members and seek investment support for emerging technologies. Otago Innovation is one of six New Zealand members able to access capital, expertise, and networks to take biomedical discoveries to market.

About Amaroq Therapeutics

Amaroq Therapeutics is a Dunedin-based biotechnology company focussed on developing a new class of therapeutics that target lncRNA in cancer.

Long non-coding RNAs are a relatively recently discovered class of molecules often referred to as “dark matter” of the human genome. These naturally occurring molecules do not code for proteins but fulfill important regulatory functions in the cell that could be exploited as a new therapeutic approach for multiple indications. Amaroq’s research team has discovered lncRNA molecules that are highly expressed in cancer cells, and once removed, cancer cell growth slows. Amaroq Therapeutics is developing innovative therapeutics to target lncRNAs for cancer treatment.

Amaroq Therapeutics is funded by the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, managed by life science venture capital firm Brandon Capital Partners, Otago Innovation Ltd, University of Otago, Cure Kids, and NZ Innovation Booster. The Company has been spun out of research from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

About the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and Brandon Capital Partners

Brandon Capital Partners is a venture capital firm that manages the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), Australia and New Zealand’s largest life science investment fund, with more than $700 million under management. The MRCF is a unique collaboration between major Australian superannuation funds, the Australian and New Zealand governments, Australian state governments and more than 50 leading medical research institutes and research hospitals. The MRCF supports the development and commercialisation of early-stage biomedical discoveries associated with member research organisations, providing both capital and expertise to guide the successful development of new therapies. The MRCF has supported more than 50 start-up companies to date, most of which were founded by the MRCF.

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