Philanthropy accelerates stroke trials

Human trials of a pioneering approach to treating stroke have been accelerated, thanks to a significant philanthropic donation from The Beluga Foundation to La Trobe University.

The world-first research, led by La Trobe University with partners the Hudson Institute and Monash Health and first published in 2018, found that injecting human amniotic cells discarded after birth can significantly reduce brain injury and aid recovery after stroke. The positive effects were significant when injected 90 minutes following a stroke, but with improvement seen when injected as late as three days afterwards.

The Beluga Foundation has gifted AUD $6 million towards accelerating the next, technology-transfer phase of human trials, following an initial donation of $1 million in 2018 which enabled Phase 1 safety trials to be conducted at Monash Health. Results of the safety trials, imminently due for publication, indicate that the treatment is safe, meaning the Phase 2 trials can now take place.

Lead researcher at La Trobe University, Professor Chris Sobey, said the Beluga Foundation’s significant gift will enable large-scale manufacturing of the amniotic cells, using technology developed by the Hudson Institute, at Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics, a GMP manufacturing facility located within the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMRB).

“Thanks to the Beluga Foundation’s generous gift, the amniotic cells can be manufactured on a large enough scale to enable phase 2 of the human trials to take place, which will involve administering the cells to 78 stroke patients across 10 sites in Australia,” Professor Sobey said.

Beluga Foundation founder and CEO Brendan McAssey said giving to fast-tracking this stroke research aligned perfectly with the Foundation’s purpose and values.

“Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability,” Mr McAssey said.

“Philanthropic giving can make the difference between whether revolutionary research, such as this La Trobe-led stroke research, can be progressed or not through the required trial phases.

“By funding the technology-transfer to ensure the next phase of trials can happen, we hope to contribute to improving outcomes for stroke patients and their families, here in Australia and across the world.”

Associate Professor Rebecca Lim leads the Amnion Cell Biology team at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, where the manufacturing of amniotic epithelial cells is opening new doors in biomedical technology.

“We are encouraged by the outcomes from the phase 1 trial and looking forward to evaluating efficacy of this cell-based therapy in the next phase of clinical testing. This would not be possible without the generosity of the Beluga Foundation or the talented and collaborative teams at La Trobe University and the Hudson Institute,” Associate Prof Lim said.

Q-Gen Cell Therapies’ General Manager, Dr. Andrew Masel, commented, “We are excited to be working with La Trobe University and the Hudson Institute on what we see as a unique cell therapy platform. We look forward to working closely with the Hudson Institute team to produce the product for clinical trials.”

La Trobe University achieves fundraising milestone

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO thanked the Beluga Foundation for their generous gift towards the La Trobe-led stroke research and said that the gift had contributed to the University successfully achieving its five-year, $100 million milestone early.

“I am deeply grateful to the Beluga Foundation and to our many donors and supporters who, over the past five years, have made a real difference, whether through funding pioneering research, enabling access to higher education or supporting important community initiatives across Victoria,” Professor Dewar said.

“I’m thrilled that we have exceeded our five-year, $100 million ‘Make the Difference’ fundraising campaign target and I’m pleased to announce that today that we are extending the campaign into a second phase, to raise a new target of $200 million by the end of 2026.”

About The Beluga Foundation

The Beluga Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Beluga Capital, a Sydney-based investment company founded in 2016 by Brendan McAssey.

The Beluga Foundation’s mission is to find the gaps in support for people living with a disability, particularly within the areas of employment; recognising the role philanthropy plays in the wider social responsibility landscape. As well as one-time program and projects grants, the Foundation has made a multi-year commitment to La Trobe University’s stroke research led by Professor Chris Sobey, which started with a $1 million donation in 2018 to facilitate the Phase 1 safety trials.

Disability employment, Impact giving and Scalable social enterprises along with medical research are the main areas of focus.

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