Australian cancer drug secures FDA approval


A groundbreaking cancer drug, originating from Australian research, has received coveted approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), marking a significant milestone in the field of oncology.

Momelotinib, a pioneering treatment for bone marrow cancer, was originally invented at Cytopia, an Australian biotech founded in 1999 by Professor Andrew Wilks. This remarkable achievement comes after Cytopia was listed on the ASX in 2004 (ASX: CYT) under the leadership of Professor Wilks and Dr. Christopher Burns. Presently, Professor Wilks serves as the Managing Director at SYNthesis BioVentures, a cutting-edge life science venture fund, while Dr. Burns holds the position of CEO at Amplia (ASX: ATX).

Before establishing Cytopia, Professor Wilks, along with his team at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, discovered and developed a suite of patents around JAK1 and JAK2 which were licensed by Cytopia. These JAK enzymes are the protein targets for Momelotinib.

In an extraordinary turn of events, Sierra Oncology, the company holding the sole right to Momelotinib, was acquired by GSK in 2022 for a staggering sum of $1.9 billion in an all-cash deal, setting a record as the highest acquisition amount ever paid for a drug developed in Australia. While initially sanctioned as a treatment for myelofibrosis, a type of bone cancer, Momelotinib exhibits remarkable potential for obtaining additional approvals for addressing various inflammatory diseases.

Professor Wilks, reflecting on the FDA’s approval of Momelotinib, expressed not only his personal gratification but also underscored the collective accomplishment of numerous scientists and clinicians who collaborated tirelessly across Australia. “Australia punches above its weight in terms of life science discoveries. And whilst government support drives the scientific sector, there needs to be a culture change for scientists to understand the commercial opportunities.

Following the sale of Cytopia in 2009, Professor Wilks established the SYNthesis Group, which later sold assets to pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Merck, amassing total deal values exceeding $2 billion, including upfront fees totalling over $180 million.

SYNthesis BioVentures emerges as the latest addition to the SYNthesis Group, a life-science venture fund that has successfully raised $75 million dedicated to early-stage medical research. The fund draws upon Professor Wilks’ profound insights and extensive experience in identifying promising ventures. Professor Wilks highlighted the fund’s initial successes, particularly investments in Anaxis Pharmaceuticals and Aculeus Therapeutics, as significant milestones.

In addressing the challenges faced by Australian scientists in translating and commercialising their discoveries, Professor Wilks emphasised the need for local investors to recognise the immense potential within Australia’s biotechnology sector.

“We hope that recent success stories coming out of Australia’s biotech sector, including Momelotinib’s approval and the success of Neuren’s recently approved drug, DayBue, will provide the impetus to continue supporting our industry.”

Professor Wilks emphasised that SYNthesis BioVentures possesses the requisite expertise and commitment to serve as a trusted partner for scientists, bridging the gap between research and commercialisation.

He concluded by saying, “Despite Melbourne boasting one of the world’s leading biomedical precincts in Parkville, Australian scientists often face a shortage of experience and capital required to maximise the value of their inventionsWe hope that by partnering with SYNthesis BioVentures, we will be able to provide solutions for both issues.”

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.


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